By Susan Parmelee
San Clemente High School students, through their participation in the Wellness & Prevention Coalition, play an important role in improving the health and wellness of our community. Several high school students have helped define the strategies that coalition members use to improve the health of the community. These committed young people serve to inspire their peers to make positive choices and help to increase the possibility of community change.
These students started SC SHIFT, a high school youth leadership club. Students from SC SHIFT have had the opportunity to attend national training academies in both Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., where they have gained valuable leadership skills while learning about community prevention strategies and how local policy and advocacy are used to create change.
Members of SC SHIFT have collaborated with the community-wide Wellness & Prevention Coalition in an effort to identify substance use issues among our youth. The leaders have selected reducing underage drinking as their primary goal for the next year. To accomplish this, the teens have developed strategies that increase social and emotional skills in young people, inspire positive communication in the home, reduce the availability of alcohol to minors and advocate for policies that help young people choose healthy behaviors.
An important guiding principle behind SC SHIFT strategies are recent gains in knowledge about the importance of brain development and the need to delay alcohol use until young people reach the age of 21, as the teen brain is much more vulnerable to addiction. In fact, young people who drink before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics, according to the National Institute of Health.
Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die because of underage drinking; this includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes; 1,600 as a result of homicides; 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns and drownings, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and Centers for Disease Control. SC SHIFT youth would like this number to be lower.
When I sit in on SC SHIFT meetings, I am impressed by the critical thinking skills of our youth, their passion for making a difference and their dedication to the wellbeing of their peers. Soon the entire community will begin to witness their hard work in media campaigns, community presentations and changes in attitudes toward underage alcohol use. I believe these youths will “shift” the actions of San Clemente youth and adults to positive choices and healthy behaviors.
The SC SHIFT president, Jonathon Magana, invites middle school and high school youth to join the coalition. Meetings are the second Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. at San Clemente High School, located at 700 Avenida Pico. For more information, email susan@wellnessandpreventionsanclemente. Adults are welcome to attend as well.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.