Local News

Nearly $1 million grant targets

The Finney County Community Health Coalition has been awarded close to $1 million through a federal grant to counter underage drinking in the area.

Date: 1/30/2009

Posted by Kansas Appleseed on 4/15/2009

Author:    Shajia Ahmad sahmad@gctelegram.com

"What we found most surprising is that the problem does not belong to one ethnic group or a low-income level; instead, it's widespread among the community's youth," Troy Unruh, one of the grant's coordinators and a member of the county-wide alliance, said. "A lot of this is going on without the parents' knowledge. And if they do know, they often don't know how or where to turn."

Unruh's hope is that will soon change, with grassroots-level programming to combat underage drinking through preventive education funded through the grant and geared toward parent and student education. The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services awarded Strategic Prevention Framework, or SPF, grants to 14 Kansas community partnerships to support efforts to prevent and reduce underage drinking across the state through the implementation and sustainability of effective, culturally competent prevention strategies, according to SRS.

A small planning grant award allowed the county coalition to develop community-based strategies last year. With a successful plan and several community strategies under its belt, the coalition was awarded funds totaling $926,000 to serve the county over the next three years. Across the state, more than $8.3 million will be distributed.

Some of the biggest concerns in Finney County, based on students' self reporting data, is that alcohol is given to minors by adults and that minors often are allowed to drink at home or at friends' homes, Unruh said.

Partnering with school districts, faith-based agencies and other community nonprofits, the coalition advocates hope to implement and bolster the work of after-school programming through already existing programs that teach life skills and drug abuse prevention, said Unruh and other leaders of the coalition, including Kevin Gallagher, the vice president of mission and ministry for St. Catherine Hospital.

Unruh, Gallagher and others also hope the coalition will be able to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny County to provide expanded tutoring and mentoring programs for area youth.

"These are evidence-based programs, and we know they will work," Unruh said. "We need to target kids before they have contact with law enforcement, because once you're in the system, it's very difficult to get out."

The funding also is planned to benefit parental education programs about underage alcohol abuse and its effects, through already-existing programs such as Guiding Good Choices. Los Niños Bien Educados, a Spanish-language version of the program, will be directed at parental skill-building for Hispanic and Latino-American parents.

According to the Kansas Substance Abuse Epidemiological Indicators Profile of 2008, 54.7 percent of high school seniors report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. Also, nearly one in 10 sixth-graders report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. The International Institute for Alcohol Awareness estimates that underage drinking cost Kansas citizens $646 million in 2005, their latest estimates. Costs include medical care, work loss costs, youth violence, traffic accidents, high-risk sex, property crime, related injury, poisonings, fetal-alcohol syndrome and treatment for abuse.

"It's a huge cost to the community; it's either pay me now or pay me later," said Lois Limes, a prevention consultant for the Southwest Kansas Regional Prevention Center.

The county-wide health coalition consists of 35 area health, social service, education, community and other agencies. Four staff members, two of them full-time, operate the coalition. Coalition members said the funding will begin this year to "lay a lot of the ground work," and train community organizers and that more dollars will be distributed in the next two years.

Unruh said he hopes the program will have an impact long after funding dries up.

"When you solve the drinking problem, you solve a lot of other problems," he said. "This is about changing social norms -- the idea that kids will be kids is just too dangerous."

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