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New face to lead alcohol prevention initiative in county

Beth Heltunen

Beth Heltunen has been named the alcohol prevention coordinator to head up a five-year state Planning and Implementation grant.

She had been serving as support staff for the grant activity when Bill Dent resigned from the coordinator position and has been actively involved in the grant activities.

Hubbard County received a five-year $1 million grant through the Minnesota Department of Human Services to address alcohol consumption by youth. St. Joseph's Area Health Services is the fiscal agent. Funding will continue through June 30, 2016.

The coalition involved in decision-making and volunteer work with the grant is named Hubbard in Prevention (HIP). Students from Park Rapids, Nevis and Laporte will be starting a campaign called, "We Decide" to be used for marketing around the county.

The approach to these grants is community-based, said Al Fredrickson, with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

"We'll be looking a lot at results and hope that these groups become self-sustaining after five years," he said.

According to a state survey, the percentage of students in Hubbard County admitting to using alcohol is "quite large." On average, 12 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in Hubbard County were alcohol related, more than twice the state average.

From 1998 to 2011, the percent of students reporting binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row) averaged 21 percent among Hubbard County 9th graders and 35 percent among 12th graders, according to a state epidemiological study.

An awareness campaign has goals to counter these statistics.

The students are leading the campaign, heading to training with other students from across the state.

Twenty-plus Hubbard County students attended a Youth Leadership Academy earlier this year. Another 40 headed to a Pelican Rapids SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) confab. And another 25 headed to Thief River for a seminar addressing alcohol consumption by teens.

The effort will be student driven.

Several HIP coalition members attended training earlier this year in Washington, D.C., as well.

This week, the coalition met to discuss vision and mission statements for the group and upcoming training for members. Nevis and Laporte schools also received funds to help with safe prom efforts.

Nevis will have a closed prom and post prom lock-in. Laporte requested having an officer at prom to deter alcohol consumption.

Funding is available through the grant for increased law enforcement coverage for proms, graduations and other activities.

Heltunen is working with regional prevention coordinator, Melissa Perreault, and Al Fredrickson and Phyllis Bengtson from the Minnesota Department of Human Services as the first year of the grant wraps up June 30.

Curriculum is being developed through Project Northland, with all three schools on board. The program is geared to address students in grades 6 through senior high. Studies now show 12-year-olds to be experimenting with alcohol.

The project will ask tough, introspective questions. Why are you drinking? Where are you obtaining alcohol and what do you consider inappropriate?

According to state Planning and Implementation programming results, data from other communities who had received similar grants and started prevention services, the alcohol use rate was going down.

The alcohol coalition, which includes members representing business, law enforcement, school, judicial, youth and parent sectors will continue working on parts of the campaign.

Interviews with community members about alcohol consumption among youth will happen in April. Coalition members will be conducting the interviews.

HIP is also looking for more members to volunteer and help with the initiative.

For more information about the coalition, contact Beth Heltunen at 237-5462.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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