By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
After 21 years with the military (U.S. Air Force), 12 years as an educator and many more years as a Sunday School teacher and church leader, Jerome Wyche is currently the Director of the Madison County Recycling Program and a leader/organizer for the Madison County Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coalition. At the Feb. 1 meeting of the Rotary Club, he told those present a little about the coalition, how it came about, and what it hoped to achieve.
The Coalition is an organization that grew from a series of very small midday meetings in the late 90’s. They moved to Madison County Central School in the afternoons, then to various churches, always with relatively few people attending. But those who did attend saw merit in the group’s mission, and after some experimentation with different locations, they discovered that a neutral location – not a church, and not a school – would bring out the most people and get them involved.
The group also refocused its mission to deal more directly with the challenges of young adults (ages 12-21) in a small, rural community like Madison. There is no movie theater and very few other forms of entertainment.
If there are no forms of entertainment available to young adults, they’ll eventually create their own entertainment.
Statistically, if there is little or no form of entertainment for young adults in a community, that community will see an increase in risky behaviors. There will be higher incidences of binge drinking among high school students. There will be higher incidences of alcohol-related accidents. There will be more prescription drug abuse. There will be more incidences of teenage violence and higher numbers of teen pregnancies. Right now, Madison leads the state in the percentage of pregnancies among unwed teenaged mothers.
It isn’t enough to tell children to say no; the Coalition works to get parents involved and partnered with other community members to present the young adults with alternatives to the risky behaviors.
“We have to offer them alternatives to peer pressure,” said Wyche. “We have to offer them a better lifestyle.”
Our community has also become tolerant of several factors that favor alcohol and drug abuse: minors having access to alcohol at home, minors hosting parties without adult supervision, and people purchasing alcohol for minors.
Through several focus groups that included young people and their parents, the Coalition came up with some strategies that would both get people to come willingly to the meetings and present the young adults with at least one fun alternative to alcohol and drugs – after the two hour Saturday morning meeting, where everyone was given information about the risks and consequences of drugs and alcohol – everybody was going to go fishing.
Forty-five young adults, their parents and other community members attended that meeting. The Coalition purchased 45 rods and reels that the teenagers could keep afterward. When the meeting was over, everyone boarded buses and spent the afternoon fishing.
After another meeting, with 18 young adults and their parents, 18 young adults learned how to golf with donated clubs. Afterward, the group went to a nice sit-down dinner at the county extension office with four or five big door prizes, and every young adult there received his or her choice of donated golf club. In the days and weeks after that meeting, Wyche told of seeing some those same young people out on the Madison Golf Course, practicing their swings.
Those were just two of the alternatives to the peer pressure, drugs, and risky behavior. The Coalition is working to come up with more in the future.
Why? “Because the young adults are the community’s future,” said Wyche. “Some day they will take over the reins after we are all gone.”
If the community doesn’t offer them more alternatives, or show them more opportunities for a better, healthier, more appealing lifestyle, they may not be there in the future to take up those reins.
At a question-and-answer session after the presentation, Rotary members asked about a couple of other alternatives, one of them being to contact the YMCA in Valdosta or Tallahassee to see if either would be willing to open a satellite location in Madison. Madison had previously approached the organization with such a request, and the result was close, but no cigar. It was suggested that perhaps this might be a good time to revisit that prospect with the YMCA.
The Coalition is looking to expand, and would like to invite interested parents and community members to bring their ideas and suggestions and join with them in providing Madison County’s young adults with healthy, fun alternatives to drugs and alcohol, a better lifestyle and a better future.
The group meets on the second Monday of every month from 6:30 to 7:30 at 316 SW Pinckney Street. For more information, contact Jerome Wyche, (850) 464-0196 or Bruce Smith at (850) 510-7512.
For tips and information for parents and how they can protect their children, visit www.bethewall.org