A big message: Teenagers raise ‘don’t drink’ sign to reach parents


News staff writer

February 7, 2007

A group of Hood River Valley High School teens are delivering in a big way the message that parents should not drink and drive.

They have plastered the warning on a billboard that stands 12 feet high and is 24 feet wide. The image of a solemn child can now be viewed on State Street, across from the county courthouse.

Youth members of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Coalition worked with the licensor and the billboard company to come up with the message. They believe the final product is eye-catching — and they hope it is also thought-provoking.

“We lost five kids during this past year in Hood River County, two due to drunk driving crashes. So, the kids chose the first image based on that data,” said Maija Yasui, county prevention coordinator.

She said the Oregon Healthy Teen Survey of eighth-graders in 2006 reported that 15 percent had ridden in the car with a parent after he/she had been drinking or were intoxicated.

“Hopefully, this billboard will be on everyone’s minds and help them make good decisions,” said Claudia Larios, a senior.

She said for the next year, the billboards will focus on the theme that all behavior has some type of a consequence. So, people need to think ahead about how their actions will play out.

“We wanted to do something to help out and make a difference,” said Melanie Orozco, a sophomore.

The next billboard design will be created by an HRVHS artist and target teens. Yasui, who works through the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families, said the new message will be posted before the prom and graduation take place, two of the big underage drinking occasions.

“We hope to change minds,” said Cindy Hernandez, a senior.

“Our goal is to reduce teen drinking and the risks associated with it, such as pregnancy and STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections).”

Yasui said the Healthy Teen survey revealed that 30 percent of eighth-grade boys and 27 percent of girls had consumed alcohol or drugs prior to having intercourse between the ages of 11-14. And 25 percent of sexually active males had not used a condom or any other form of protection.

The ATOD youth panel, focused on promoting healthy lifestyles, has invited art students to “use their full creativity” on the look of the upcoming billboard.

Prior to putting a paintbrush to paper, each of the 13 classes will be briefed on the growing rates for underage binge drinking. They will also be apprised that many teens are now having unprotected sex with multiple partners at one underage party — increasing their odds of contracting HIV/AIDS.

The entire student body will be given the opportunity to weigh in on the renderings of the teen artists. Their concepts will be publicly displayed for a one-week period in March before a vote is taken.

The grand prize for the top entry will be $300, with $100 awarded to the first place, $75 for second and $25 for third. The four leading choices will be plastered on the billboard sometime during 2007.

Yasui said the new outreach effort was made possible through a state grant of almost $5,000. A billboard is also dedicated to the cause in Wasco County and monies used to fund prevention programs in William and Sherman counties, all served by HRCCCF.

Hood River’s teen advertisements will be printed on vinyl so they can be taken down and displayed at the county fair. They might also be aired in another location, such as Wasco County, or along Interstate 5 near the Salem capital.

“This is a good way to have the voice of our kids get out and be heard,” said Yasui.

The Hood River students might be on the move — but many couldn’t get where they need to go without transportation. So, Scott Slattum, youth minister for St. Mary’s Catholic Church, has volunteered to be their chauffer.

He and representatives from other area churches work through the Faith Connection Coalition, which is also affiliated with HRCCCF.

Slattum said the billboard is just one more demonstration of Hood River County’s commitment to strengthening families.

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