Rural Idaho teens help prevent substance abuse among their peers
To open their most recent meeting, members of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) in Kamiah, Idaho, stood and recited their ground rules: Be respectful, no drugs, no cellphones, have fun, no idea is a bad idea.
Then these seven young people sat down to take care of business, the business of making their community a better place for youth.
“Kamiah area youth use and abuse alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs for varied and complicated reasons,” said Sharlene Johnson, who helped organize the YAB as an offshoot of its parent organization, the Upriver Youth Leadership Coalition (UYLC). “Few resources are available locally to combat this.”
To help address the area’s prevention needs, the YAB gets together twice a month, and holds an additional monthly general membership meeting that’s open to all area youth, to plan substance-free events.
“We have activities to get kids out of the house and doing fun stuff as opposed to doing drugs and other things like that,” said Jace Sams, YAB vice president.
The YAB started in 2017 with a few initial recruits nervously meeting over pizza; since then, the board has blossomed into a confident, dedicated group that’s hosted a community-wide dodge ball tournament, post-football game dances, basketball open gyms, a summer Movies Under the Stars series, caroling, a New Years Eve lock-in, and more.
They plan the events mostly on their own, with help from Johnson and other UYLC members. They arrange for the venues, market the events—even speaking on radio PSAs, decorate, and talk up the events among their peers.
For their recent New Year’s Eve lock-in, the YAB designed an overnight event that offered something for everyone and required an impressive amount of up-front work.
“We had about 50 kids show up for the lock in,” said Sams. “We did an introduction, laid down the rules, and told them what was available to do. We had a video game room, some minute-to-win-it activities, dodge ball, movies, board games, and a bunch of snacks.”
The students recognize that substance-free isn’t always popular. But they aren’t put off by other teens’ reactions about it not being cool.
“It doesn’t make me feel weird, it just makes me curious why they’d think that,” pondered Mikal Brotnov, a YAB middle school representative. “When they react in a certain way that I may not understand, I invite them to our events to help them see the impact we can make and why the group will make a difference in our community.”
Thomas Mozley, YAB president, added: “Some of the kids fall into what they’re used to; [drinking and drugs] are what they see around the community. When they get out of their comfort zone, they have a good time, it’s just convincing them to get out of their comfort zone and come to the events.”
Hailey Brotnov, who serves as YAB secretary, encourages friends to try the group, especially those who don’t have particularly vigilant parents. “I know a lot of people whose parents drink and they let their kids drink,” she said. “I think it would help them.”
While the main goal is to help others, YAB members also are enjoying benefits themselves. Many enjoy the day-to-day work—“I like the meetings because we get stuff done.” (Jace Johnson, treasurer); “I like to see my friends at the events.” (Spencer Flerchinger, high school representative); and “We’re getting more organized.” (Kaylee Hunt, middle school representative)—but they also see how this opportunity is shaping their futures.
“It helps us be more comfortable in our own skin, I guess,” said Mozley. “It helps us get out of our comfort zone—we will be more outgoing at college, and be more social with new people.”
Aside from planning their upcoming St. Patrick’s Day dance, YAB is selling tickets for a drawing to raise $6,000 to send all seven members to a conference, the CADCA National Youth Leadership Institute, in July to learn how to be even better community advocates.
“Wanna buy a ticket?” asks Sams.
For more information, visit UYLC’s Facebook page.
Tags: alcohol-free, Idaho, Kamiah, prevention, teen, teen events, teen leadership, underage drinking, Youth Advisory Board