Group to write manual for being role models

Monday, October 25, 2004

Some parents have no doubt wished children came with a manual.

The Southeast Missouri Youth Substance Abuse Coalition recently was awarded a grant to write one for parents and other adults who work with young people to help children and teens make good decisions about drug, alcohol and tobacco use. The coalition wants the manual to provide information that will augment and enhance the work already being done in groups, churches and schools and through social service agencies.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health's Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse recently awarded $7,000 to the coalition to develop an Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Community Awareness Manual. Earlier this year, to show community support for the grant application, the United Way of Southeast Missouri awarded the coalition a $1,000 grant to aid in the project.

The youth substance abuse coalition is made up of members from over 30 different community agencies and organizations. It covers the counties of Cape Girardeau, Scott, Madison, Bollinger, Perry and Ste. Genevieve, said Jim Maginel, project coordinator. It is based at Southeast Missouri State University.

The coalition is among the groups involved with the Community Caring Council's community plan which recently announced its focus for that four-part plan. The manual Maginel foresees the coalition writing is part of the CCC's plan to educate the public to the problem young people face with making wise choices.

"We're hoping to incorporate enough local data to make it interesting and useful for the community to recognize the scope of the problem," Maginel said.

According to Marla Mills of the United Way, who is chairman of the Youth Substance Abuse Coalition, the coalition over the past year has gathered and analyzed information about youth alcohol, drug and tobacco use in the Cape Girardeau County area.

According to the 2002 student survey conducted by the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, Mills said, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are the most commonly used substances among youth ages 10 to 18. The average age of children who report smoking and using alcohol more than just a few sips is between 12 and 13 years. Early marijuana use begins between the ages of 13 and 14, according to the survey.

Mills said the manual will offer specific suggestions on ways to impact youth substance use and abuse. The project will also offer limited training for groups and individuals about how to implement the suggestions.

Maginel said the grant from the Department of Mental health will allow the group to gather even more information locally from people who work with young people and substance abuse. The Department of Probation and Parole has indicated an interest in the project, he said. The information they have, and other agencies such as the juvenile office, "can make it more interesting and more relevant to adults in the community."

Once the manual is published, Maginel said he wants to get it out to as many people as possible.

"I envision a wide distribution to educators, faith-based leaders, youth club leaders, law enforcement personnel," he said. "I would like to get it to athletic coaches, get it into the hands of anybody who has an on-going relationship with youth. We want to have data and snapshots of some of the youths making poor decisions and how it affected their lives through the eyes of the youths and adults."

Maginel said he would like to see the manual be chapter-specific -- a chapter for teachers on how to recognize substance abuse in the classroom and how to intervene, a chapter for coaches to reach young people about their choices, a chapter for church and youth club leaders to help guide young people toward activities "to reinforce the notion that things can be fun and exciting in life without making decisions that involve alcohol and other drugs," Maginel said.

Adults often don't realize how much of an impact they have on young people. Even though parents may feel like their children reject their values, Maginel said studies have shown that young people look to their parents as models.

"They can have an effect on how young people make their decisions," he said, "and it is likely that the youth will follow that rather than be swayed by peer pressure and marketing."

Maginel said the coalition will be collecting data through the winter and hopes to have the first draft finished by spring. It wants to be able to offer a training session and put the manual into the hands of adult mentors by the time school starts next fall so they can immediately put it to good use.

"We want this to be more than something to look at and then lay down and forget about," Maginel said.

335-6611, extension 160

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