“When the pandemic started – well, every story starts with that now, right?” Randy Root, Executive Director of Huron Valley Community Coalition, joked as he settled in to reflect on the coalition’s recent campaign. “When Covid-19 became a growing concern, we were stopped in our tracks just like everyone else. We were reeling for a while, wondering what we could do to still be productive. In the end we decided, well, we can listen, we can learn, and we can teach,” and what Huron Valley Community Coalition was ultimately able to implement was an innovative, multi-faceted and inexpensive approach to underage drinking prevention.
“Stephanie Strutner does our evaluation work for us, and she also taught us at the National and Graduate Coalition Academy, so I thought she would be a great resource to reach out to for advice. One of the things our coalition had yet to put together was our action teams, which is in our strategic plan, so, I told our board, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to behave as if you make up our underage drinking action team. Stephanie is going to walk us through the process of identifying local conditions and some logic modeling work, and then we’ll work through the SPF to see what we need to do to plan some activities.’”
“It worked out great. People were really enthusiastic. We had four months of board meetings to plan a whole campaign that we pulled off during the last six months of the school year.” That plan included a mailing in December, a postcard mailing before Spring Break, a unique twist on Project Sticker Shock, and a final mailing that arrived just before prom, graduation and summer break.
The first packet was sent to all households with middle and high school Huron Valley students, which totaled to about 3,600 families. The packet included an informational card that discussed the coalition’s local conditions, along with ten pieces of tamper-resistant tape to be used on bottle caps or other alcohol containers.
“One of the biggest local conditions we are concerned with is that kids are getting alcohol at home or at the home of their friends. We wanted to come up with a way to help parents secure their alcohol or at least make an impact.” Initially, Randy explained that they tossed around the idea of ordering bottle locks, but found that the product and shipping cost would be too expensive.”
“We couldn’t afford to buy all of them and couldn’t afford to ship them. Then, one of our law enforcement officers said, ‘Hey, you know we use tamper resistant tape on our evidence bags at the police department. Why don’t you use that and just put it over the caps and bottles or even on boxes to secure cases of beer?’ And I thought that idea was just simple, genius, cheap and made it very easy to mail.”
“We also planned to send out alcohol test strips for home use. The problem was that including the strips meant increasing the mailing cost from the price of a regular letter to the price of a package that would cost $5 each to ship. Instead, on the backside of the information card we sent out, we gave instructions on how to order the at-home alcohol test strips from us, which we would send them. We also had them available at all the school buildings, so they could stop by there as well.”
“The test strips were a key aspect too, because not only can Mom and Dad warn their kids that they will use them if they suspect alcohol use, what I like best about it is that the kids can talk to their friends when they’re being offered alcohol and say, ‘Hey, listen, my parents are going to make me take this test if they even slightly suspect I’m using alcohol,’ and use it as a way for them to back out of a bad situation without having to lose their friends or not look cool.”
“We wanted to apply that same level of innovation to everything we did. We thought, what can we do to put a little extra spin on all the activities we have planned for underage drinking that are directly related to our specific local conditions? We also tried to up the level of strategies that we were applying. When we sent out the postcard before spring break, which was the next step, we really wanted to focus on positive norms.”
When it came time to implement their spin on Project Sticker Shock, a project where sticker warnings are placed on alcohol products in local retail stores to remind adults not to provide alcohol to minors, Randy expressed that he had hesitations about the plan’s effectiveness and use of volunteers’ time. In an effort to increase retailer participation in this project, Randy reached out to his coalition members who work in law enforcement for support.
“I asked, ‘Would you mind going around to the liquor retailers and asking permission for us to bring in volunteers that could put stickers on the boxes?” And they said not only yes, but absolutely, yes, because it gives them a positive interaction with people in their community to do some proactive policing. On top of that, without even asking, they said they’d do me one better and put the stickers on for us as well. So, it really ended up coming together beautifully.”
To complement these efforts, the coalition put out advertisements, feature stories and press releases in their local newspapers before and after the stickers were placed. “From this project, we got 9,000 stickers placed, but we also know that a whole bunch of people saw what we were doing and got the message that you are not supposed to provide alcohol to minors.”
The final mailing was similar to the first, with more tamper tape strips and information on prevention. “We found that while not everyone used the tamper tape, about 65% said that it sparked conversations about drug and alcohol use with their kids, which was truly the main goal. We started conversations, and we had a good 36% that said they talked to other parents about monitoring and securing practices, so that’s huge even if they didn’t use the tape that we sent them. Those conversations happened, that awareness happened, so the behaviors can change because of that.”
The Huron Valley Community Coalition shared more details and resources about their initiative in a discussion thread on CADCA’s members-only Community site.