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Kids exposed to anti-alcohol messages on several fronts

 

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There is no Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter in Havre. And despite a high attendance rate in the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is no Ala-teen program for children affected by alcoholism.

Havre High, however, does have HELPers, a high school spinoff of the local HELP Committee.

When Dusty Toth became an adviser for HELPers three years ago, the club had about 20 members. Last spring there were about five, and sometimes only one or two attended the weekly meetings, which were moved from evenings to the lunch hour to spark attendance.

"Some of the ones that used to come are the ones that have started getting in trouble (for drinking)," said the 24-year-old Toth, one of about 40 members of HELPers when he was in high school. "They're not interested in belonging to anything, really."

In March, Toth said, there was discussion of combining the Key Club and HELPers, mainly because the few students in HELPers are involved in the Key Club too.

"All I get is that everyone is so busy," Toth said. "I guess you have to pick what you want to be busy doing."

Havre Middle School has a Junior HELPers program as well, with 46 students as members.

Founded in Havre in 1979, the HELP committee is a community-based nonprofit organization focused on the prevention of the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

HELP has a budget of between $150,000 and $200,000. Each summer, HELP holds a camp for sixth- through eighth-graders and "addresses a lot of the issues surrounding underage drinking," HELP executive director Robin Morris said.

Courtesy of HELP, a Boys and Girls Club opened in Havre this summer. The organization also sponsors a quarterly parenting class for area residents with adolescent children.

HELP has made several suggestions to the county to discourage teen drinking, such as the implementation of a countywide juvenile curfew and the startup of inspections of local bars and restaurants to make sure underagers are not being served.

The Hill County Sheriff's Office has temporarily dropped its Drugs Alcohol Resistance Education or DARE program.

DARE ended when sheriff's deputy Dana Roe retired in August after 21 years with the Hill County Sheriff's Office. Roe was the only officer certified to teach DARE, a 17-week program with classes once a week.

"I hope they find somebody that's interested and willing to take that program on," Roe said.

Until he retired, Roe taught fifth- and six-graders at various schools along the Hi-Line, including Havre, Box Elder, Blue Sky, KG and J-I.

Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera is planning to make room in his budget for the cost of sending a deputy out-of-state to a DARE training session. It will cost about $1,000.

"It's important for the county," Szudera said, "because it at least gets the information to the (students) about the hazards of underage drinking."

Some students say DARE had the opposite effect. "It just seemed like they told you how to drink," said Levi Briese, a Havre junior who does not drink alcohol.

Treatment options

Some Hill County underagers are acquainted with Carol Richard and Deborah Knox.

They run TLC Recovery Inc., an alcohol and drug treatment and prevention program that covers eight counties in Montana. The nonprofit organization is 10 years old and has a $250,000 annual budget.

Knox teaches Insight, a four-week alcohol information course designed to get children "to think about the consequences of their drinking," she said.

Juveniles are sent to Insight only if they have three MIPs or a DUI conviction. The youngest kid ever enrolled in Insight was 12.

"Usually they've been drinking for a couple years before they come to us," Richard said.

Julie Toldness, 24, completed Insight after she got an MIP in high school. Other than getting to know fellow partiers, Toldness said, the program was ineffective.

"We found out cool stories about why other kids were in there and what they did," she said.

If underagers' drinking histories are more extensive, they are sent to Assessment Course and Treatment, a six-week program taught by Richard for serious alcohol offenders.

While he attended the ACT classes, 19-year-old Cody Hanson said the group watched videos about alcohol's effect on the body and about the disease of alcoholism.

"I never took the ACT class seriously," Hanson said. "The judge sent me there; I was just going through the motions."

It wasn't until Hanson was pronounced chemically dependent and placed in group therapy that he acknowledged his drinking problem.

Now he gets annoyed when fellow group members don't do the assigned homework for their weekly class.

"I think it made me grow up," Hanson said. "The treatment turned me around totally."

 

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