HR church reaches out to youth, wants to curb underage drinking


News staff writer

March 15, 2006

The Hood River Alliance Church wants to provide local children and teenagers with a healthy place to hang out and socialize.

In February, the need for a youth center was given top priority at a community roundtable on underage drinking.

The church, located off Rand Road, is asking the City of Hood River to approve a conditional use permit for a 6,000 square foot expansion.

Doug Rovianek, co-chair of the building committee, said the facility will be staffed and provide a secure environment for elementary-age children and teens. He said the plans call for a coffee shop, sports equipment — such as a climbing wall — and even computers for tutoring.

“We want to have after-school, evening and weekend programs so that kids can have fun in a safe place,” said Rovianek.

He said the church plans to hold fund-raising events to pay the $2 million cost involved in renovating the existing building and adding new construction. Rovianek said several area service organizations have already stepped forward with offers of help.

He said the youth center will house a variety of activities including foosball and basketball tournaments. In addition, it will have a full kitchen to accommodate weddings and other social events.

“I think a lot of the work on this project will be done by volunteers. We are definitely going to appreciate any labor or financial support that we receive from the community,” said Rovianek.

Last week the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families heard an update on the pending development. The officials were pleased about the initiative taken by the Alliance Church to address a need in the community.

Maija Yasui, prevention coordinator, said the youth center is one proactive way to address a growing underage drinking trend.

She said an outreach program to educate parents about the scope of the problem and help them learn prevention techniques is also due to be launched in the near future. And HRCCCF is also forming a workgroup to promote drug and alcohol-free lifestyles among local school students.

In addition, greater effort will be made by state officials to crack down on bars and retail outlets in the county that sell alcohol to minors.

“These things are happening because of the people who were at the February roundtable. This is really a coalition in action and that says a lot about our community,” said Yasui.

Joella Dethman, HRCCCF director, had scheduled the roundtable to address recent statistics about underage drinking. Almost 200 people attended, including family service agency representatives, health providers, school officials, government administrators, church leaders and more than 40 teenagers.

Under discussion was a recent state survey showing that 48 percent of local 11th grade boys and 40 percent of girls reported using alcohol within the past 30 days. The figures in the eighth grade were also of concern, with 21 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls admitted to drinking within that same time period.

Yasui and Dethman believe a social norm needs to be changed so that youth don’t regard alcohol consumption as a “rite of passage” into adulthood. For example, they recommend that local family-oriented events not include beer, wine or hard liquor. They want the message clearly delivered to teens that “you can have fun without drinking.”

“We are not abolitionists, we are not about removing alcohol from every home or stopping adults from consuming alcohol,” said Yasui. “We are about reducing alcohol abuse by youth and, by definition, any use of alcohol by an underage person is abuse.”

Dethman invites interested community members to volunteer on a workgroup by calling 386-2500. She also welcomes parents and other community members to pick up prevention materials at the HRCCCF office in the county courthouse, 309 State Street.

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