That idea is at the core of the Yakima Valley System of Care’s outreach to educate young people about driving and substance abuse. Yakima County, Washington is a large and rural county. The primarily agricultural communities are spread out.
“At one end of the county a small town has a big underage drinking problem,” says Youth Engagement Specialist Tiffany Sanders. “At least two to three youth in our county die each year in incidents where chemical use was involved.”
Yakima County’s substance abuse problems aren’t limited to one small town in the corner of the county. At the other end, a two-lane highway runs through a more rural setting. Although the state drinking age is 21, many Yakima County youth drink at a much younger age—as early as middle school. Combine drinking with a rural highway, and the result is many under-the-influence traffic crashes.
It hasn’t always been easy to motivate the community to do something about the under-age drinking problems. “When people are faced with a problem that they don’t know how to remedy often times it’s easier to turn a blind eye,” Sanders explains. “People are beginning to understand how critical it is to provide education and interactive prevention programs to protect our youth.”
As difficult as it has been to encourage adults to begin tackling the issues, that wasn’t the case with area youth. They saw the problem clearly and wanted to do something to correct it. “Youth want adults to admit to the problem, and actively support them in healthy ways to remedy it,” Sanders says.
When the county received a children’s mental health grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to use in its social services outreach and to improve the coordination between child/youth serving systems, Sanders saw her opportunity. The grant had several levels, one of which was training youth to become community leaders by educating adults about youth issues such as mental health and foster care. And, of course, drug and alcohol abuse.
With a past history of working in the mental health and substance abuse fields, Sanders quickly identified the usefulness of the Fatal Vision® products in helping youth reach other youth and adults about driving while impaired. “Fatal Vision® can help with this if used properly,” she says.
She formed a youth leadership team, Youth for Community Growth: Teens Reviving Equality for Everyone (YCG: T.R.E.E.). Members range in age from 15 to 18. With the grant, she purchased Innocorp’s Community Event Package, which includes Fatal Vision® goggles, Phone Condoms™/Phone Cells™, Distract-a-Match® 2, intoxiclock® version 4, and many other prevention tools. Innocorp’s COO Deb Kusmec came to Yakima County and trained ten youth and three adults to use the equipment. The youth trained by Kusmec have since trained others to use the products as new members join the YCG: T.R.E.E.
The group creates presentations geared to other teens. Typically, they present to 25 to 30 youth in a classroom setting and at times up to 75 youth in large groups. Presentations have been made to high school psychology classes, SADD club meetings, and community coalitions. Extended week-long presentations have occurred during Alcohol Awareness Week in local school districts. In addition to incorporating the Fatal Vision® products, team members gather pertinent data and statistics on intoxicated/distracted driving to present to these groups.
“They really enjoy using the products,” says Sanders. And even more importantly, the products are effective communication tools.
“The Fatal Vision® products help us promote safe driving because they are extremely hands-on,” says one of the YCG: T.R.E.E. members. “This helps students see for themselves firsthand how dangerous these types of situations can be. These simulations help students to see these things without having to actually experience them.”
“I truly do (think the Fatal Vision® products work) in terms of getting the message across to youth,” Sanders says. “I’ve never had so many requests for presentations. The people in the school system are saying, ‘Please come and give us more information.’”
In fact, the presentations have been so successful, she says that not a week has gone by without the Fatal Vision® products being used multiple times.
YCG: T.R.E.E. plans to expand its presentations to include appropriate outreach to elementary schools. There is interest in developing a video with a drug recognition expert from Yakima County Sheriff’s Office (YSO) and further collaborating with YSO during the State Fair.
“Many youth in our area believe that one drink won’t hurt you, marijuana isn’t addictive, selling drugs is a normal thing,” says the YCG: T.R.E.E. team member. “I think our youth team can change that by presenting this information and really promoting safe driving and caution with drugs and alcohol.”
Sanders points out that the members of YCG: T.R.E.E. are effective in their outreach because of the natural connection that occurs in peer-to-peer education opportunities. Many youth share the experience of distracted driving, i.e. texting, changing music, eating, etc., and when any lives are lost due to impaired driving there is an extensive ripple effect on all members of a community. These experiences, when combined with the Fatal Vision® products, create presentations with impact.
“It is important for youth to reach out to other youth because when youth speak to their peers the message comes across stronger,” says the YCG: T.R.E.E. member. “A student is more likely to listen to their friends than they are an adult. We’re used to being ordered around by adults, and lots of times teenagers just stop listening. This is important because maybe we can get the message across, especially when most of our friends drive or are learning how to right now.
“One of the strongest moments I found while presenting is when I was presenting to a classroom using the intoxiclock®,” the team member continues. “There was total silence when people realized how much harm one drink could have, or even two. It was much more than people realized, and it wasn’t just someone saying it would hurt you. There were facts and numbers right there.”
“The youth promote it and that works,” says Sanders. “That communicates, even across school lines.”