Town hall meeting to be held in Harrisburg Thursday night

HARRISBURG, AR (KAIT) – Members of the Poinsett County Partners in Health Coalition and local high schools will host a town hall meeting Thursday night in Harrisburg. According to Dennis Graham, counselor at Harrisburg High School, a small stipend is helping fund town hall meetings regarding underage drinking. Graham said the stipend is offered through the U.S. Surgeon General's office.

"In discussing it among ourselves at our coalition meeting, we decided to take the approach of following the lead that some other counties have done as far as a social host law," said Graham. "We're wanting to find out what kind of momentum there can be in Poinsett County to not just address the underage drinking from the points of view of the minors, but the adults who are providing the alcohol."

In November 2009, an ordinance was passed in Cross County, prohibiting "the hosting or permitting gatherings where minors consume alcoholic beverages." According to the Cross County Sheriff's Office website, the ordinance states the penalties for violating the law include fines and possible jail time. The ordinance is meant to provide local governments more authority to control underage drinking.

A similar measure was approved of in Lawrence County, Graham said.

"We're going to have representatives from those counties here to tell us how they went about tackling that problem, what they're results have been, give us any tips and hints that may help us in our endeavor," said Graham. "I think sometimes what we don't look at hard enough is the source, where it comes from and what can be done to cut off the source."

Thursday night's meeting will be held at the Harrisburg High School Fine Arts Center at 6:30. Graham said several presentations will be made from students and will include a question and answer session. The public is invited to attend.

A second meeting will be held in two weeks in Marked Tree for residents who cannot attend Thursday night, Graham told Region 8 News.

"I don't think it's rocket science as far as why kids will drink. It can be to fit in. It can be to relieve anxiety. It can be for any number of reasons," said Graham. "If we can do something to interrupt the source, then maybe we can make a little more headway."

Natalie Eaton, a sophomore, said it's easy to tell who provides alcohol. She said other teens often talk about it.

"It's pretty obvious because you can get texts that go around now. Because we have social media and there's Facebook, every once in a while you'll see something on Facebook or you'll just get a text about where the party is going to be and what time it is and what to bring," said Eaton. "You have to avoid those, but you know the people who host them because it's kind of obvious.

Eaton said her friends will join her youth group at her church after the schools prom in a few weeks. She said it will also be chaperoned by a parent.

Particularly concerning, Eaton said, is the willingness of some parents to provide their underage children alcohol and offer it to their friends.

"There's a lot of parents here and there's a lot of older students who are above 21 that are willing to do it just because they are bored I guess, and parents want to be best friends with their kids or best friends with students," said Eaton. "I think the main problem is parents providing alcohol to minors and people above 21 that are just wanting to be friends with younger students providing it. I think that's the main problem more than there is just underage drinking."

"The stupid things we did as kids, I don't feel like I've been out of school 20 years, but I have and it's so close to when they are going to be doing the same things that we did, and it terrifies me as a mother," said Jamie Wright, mother of two children, 10 and 11 years old.

"We talk about it often because alcoholism runs in my family. I tell her that I know she's probably going to experiment with alcohol. I know this because I did. I tell her whatever she does, do not get in a car with somebody who has been drinking or if she's been drinking," said Wright.

Wright said she supports the movement to implement a social host law in Poinsett County. Region 8 News attempted to interview people who are against a social host law; however, none agreed to talk on camera.

"There are quite a few parents in this community that don't find it an issue," said Wright. "I want this to be a better community. I want responsible children and responsible adults."

"Sometimes their brains just do not put together. It is so scary that they're lives can change in an instant and they just don't realize it," said Wright.

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