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U NEED 2 KNOW

“I’m excited – it’s a new beginning for me, ending what happened before,” said William, who graduates from Honokaa High and Intermediate School this week. “It’s like a rebirth.”

From a kolohe kid who didn’t care about school, and who often got into fights when bullying triggered his short temper, was able to turn his life around with the help of caring adults, community resources and other protective factors. For him, graduation is an important transition, but not one he plans to celebrate with drugs or alcohol.

“I’ve seen the worse side of it—both alcohol and drugs—in my family and friends,” said William. “One sister lost her husband because of it. My friend Rocky was killed because of it.”

Underage drinking is a major factor in the two leading causes of teenage deaths: car crashes and fatal injuries, according to Students Against Drunk Driving. Their research also shows that 70 percent of 11th and 12th graders expect their peers to drink and drive on prom or graduation night. In addition, 52 percent of adults in Hawaii County say it’s “not at all difficult” for youth to obtain alcohol, in spite of the fact that 21 is the minimum legal drinking age in Hawaii and in all 50 states.

William doesn’t see alcohol as part of his grad-transition.

“It’s a way to shorten your life,” he said.

One important help for William has been the Hamakua Youth Center, a valuable resource and huge support for him in tough times. “I found new interests and ways to channel my anger,” he said.

At HYC he studied Hawaiian culture and hula with teacher Lanakila Mangauil, and developed skills, relationships and confidence, eventually serving as a youth member of the board of directors.

“When I discovered this place my whole life permanently changed,” said then-freshman William in a 2009 interview. “It opened up a whole wide world of opportunities for me.”

He also credits teachers such as auto mechanics instructor Ross Perrins for helping him stay on track.

“There were times when I wouldn’t do homework, and Mr. Perrins gave me incentive. He would say ‘Do your work so you can get back in the shop.’” William, who also plays ukulele and has become very involved with the Honokaa Peace Committee, plans to make a career as an auto mechanic, doing the work he loves.

Relationships with caring adults, setting goals, holding a positive vision of their future, and being offered alternatives to drugs and alcohol are all protective factors to help keep kids safe. Especially during transition times like graduation, the community can help strengthen and focus on protective factors like this.

How?

Talk. The best time to help young people avoid alcohol is before someone offers them a drink. Research shows that the #1 influence in kids’ life is their parents. And, youth whose parents talk to them about alcohol are about half as likely to start drinking. In our extended community ohana, aunties and uncles, teachers, coaches, pastors, friends and neighbors can all take time to talk with kids about graduation, transitions and the kinds of decisions they will be making.

What do we talk about?

U Need 2 Know, and they Need 2 Know, that getting drunk or stoned is not an expected part of the experience. There are other ways to celebrate and have fun, but if they do end up at a party with alcohol, kids need to know how to say “No” and not feel like a loser. Usually “No thanks, I have to go soon,” “I’m the designated driver,” or “No thanks, I’m good,” said with confidence, direct eye contact and no excuses, apologies, arguments or complaints will do the trick—especially if friends stick together and support each other.

You can also talk about driving, and riding in cars. Be sure kids know it is never OK to ride with someone who’s been drinking. Assure them they can call for a ride home at any time, with no questions asked until later. If it helps, set up a pre-arranged text “code” such as “I forgot to feed the cat” if they are uncomfortable riding home with the person who brought them.

Participate. William had numerous caring adults who helped him at school and elsewhere, professionally and as community volunteers. Sometimes just sharing activities you enjoy—hula, sports, auto shop, church, cooking, camping or music—can make a big difference.

In North Kohala, for example, adults who love skateboarding are working with youth to produce the fifth annual “Go Skate Day Hawaii” on Saturday, June 22, in Kapaau. A spectacular day for skaters starts with road closure at 10:30 a.m. for a parade to Roots Skatepark in Kamehameha Park, for skateboard contests, great food, and lots of prizes.

Organized by Roots Advocates for Youth nonprofit as a fundraiser for Phase II of Root Skatepark, “Go Skate Day Hawaii” is open to all, and offers countless opportunities to volunteer, make donations, ride in the parade or come out and cheer the kids on. For more information, contact Richey Riggs at skate4roots@yahoo.com or 895-2909.

Graduation is an important transition time for youth, and they need confidence and the courage to step up to the next level. The North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition congratulates the Class of 2013 and invites the community to join in, take time to talk, participate, and help our young people move forward towards a great future.

The North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition, a project of Five Mountains Hawaii, is a regional volunteer organization committed to developing strong, sustaining relationships for Healthy Communities Choosing to Live Drug Free. For more information, visit www.fivemountains.org/nhdfc.