An initiative in Rockmart has been underway this summer and continues to help reduce the underage drinking rate, and one man is on a crusade to make sure it happens.
Michael Carpenter, who has for the past few years been working on the issue in Cartersville, now partnering with law enforcement and business owners to help reduce the underage drinking rate. He’s part of the Coalition to Prevent the Misuse of Alcohol, active in more than 60 communities around the state.
Carpenter said he’s reached out to Rockmart police chief Keith Sorrells, mayor Steve Miller and business leaders to ensure that alcohol isn’t getting into kids hands.
He explained that through surveys of elementary, middle and high school students – along with a few other people over 21 – were collected.
“We were trying to find out what kind of things are going on in the area and what are people’s perceptions were about alcohol consumption,” Carpenter said. “After collecting this data, we figured out that what people from Rockmart really wanted was to build awareness on alcohol abuse.”
He has some interesting numbers from those survey results to back it up.
Those include a 27 percent of Rockmart Middle and High School students admitting they’d tried alcohol between the ages of 13 and 17. Statistics also included a slight decrease in the number of high school students who admitted drinking in the last 30 days – especially 12 graders – down at least six points in each grade from 2012 to 2013.
One additional note on underage drinking: 55 percent of students 13 to 17 said it would be easy for them to get alcohol if they wanted it.
Typically, Carpenter pointed out, the easiest access point for teen drinkers is in the home or within their circle of friends.
The initiative to raise awareness on underage alcohol use started three years ago when Carpenter said his organization got a grant from the state to start exploring ways to reduce youth drinking. The organization started in Cartersville, then was asked to explore expanding their reach.
“Since Cartersville is so close to Rockmart, it made sense for us to go there next,” he said.
The first stage took place during the spring, when a group of Rockmart Middle School 8th graders were given an online course about the dangers of underage drinking, then were tested on the subject.
Carpenter said 80 percent of students at Rockmart Middle showed improvement in their awareness of alcohol-related issues following the online coursework. Student awareness will be a continuing process, Carpenter said.
The next step in the process is to ensure students have less access to purchasing or obtaining alcohol. Part of that initiative will be fulfilled with educating business owners to the problem, and how to curb underage sales.
“We went to businesses and informally asked if we paid for the service training involved with serving or selling alcohol, would they be supportive? Every single one of the businesses I’ve talked to have said yes,” Carpenter said.
Making sure businesses aren’t selling alcohol to minors is also a big part of combating the problem. Carpenter said he’d like to see an increase in the number of compliance checks being completed on stores every year.
“With the compliance check, generally they do one check a year,” he said “We’’re looking at trying to get law enforcement to do two checks a year.”
He said work on the project is expected to last at least two more years. Another round of surveys to 11th graders and their parents are likely to be sent out during the early part of the school year.
Those figures, Carpenter said, will help toward refining strategies in raising awareness and figuring out if underage drinking in Rockmart has gone down due to their work.
“We need more support from the community to tell us what the needs are,” he said. “The question always remains: what do we need to address and what’s the best way to address it?”