Mercy Health promotes teen sobriety with student-produced videos

October 15, 2015

The video message begins with trophies and other mementos of youth achievement, then moves to a text message from Mom: "When are you going to be home?" It ends with shards of bottle glass thrown across the smiling faces on family photos.

"We want people to know that alcohol can shatter their lives," said Kayleigh Gonzalez, who led production of the 30-second public service video. "You don't have to drink to be cool."

Matthew Johnson and Kayleigh Gonzalez produced a public service video about teen drinking for a community coalition that is coordinated by Mercy Health in Muskegon, Mich.

Gonzalez was a senior at Reeths-Puffer High School in Muskegon, Mich., and one of dozens of students from six schools who teamed up to produce public service announcements for the Muskegon Alcohol Liability Initiative, part of a local coalition coordinated by Mercy Health that seeks to reduce the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

Laura Fitzpatrick, the advocacy and community benefit special projects manager at Mercy Health in Muskegon, also serves as manager of the Coalition for a Drug Free Muskegon County. The alcohol liability initiative is a coalition project. Mercy Health has three hospitals in the Muskegon area, on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Fitzpatrick said the coalition is a good example of how hospitals can get involved in grassroots efforts to promote behaviors to reduce emergency room visits and chronic medical issues. And she said medical professionals can share their knowledge and organizing skills with members of the community to make coalitions more effective.

"Each community has a tremendous capacity for good that is just waiting to be tapped," Fitzpatrick said. "I see hospital people get excited because they see others out there who can help on these issues. It's a powerful combination."

In February, the group was named Coalition of the Year for 2014 by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a Washington-based organization that was founded in 1992. The award cited the Muskegon group's efforts to reduce abuse by teens of alcohol and tobacco.

Over the past decade, the Muskegon coalition also campaigned to make local restaurants smoke free, held seminars with retailers on ways to prevent sales of cigarettes and alcohol to minors, and organized a way for people to dispose of leftover prescription drugs, especially painkillers which can be abused for their mind-altering properties. The "drug take back" program has collected eight tons of unused prescription drugs at pharmacies, firehouses and other central locations, she said. The drugs are incinerated.

Fitzpatrick said coalition members helped develop the teen video-message program in talking with high-school students about alcohol abuse among their peers. She said students told them about binge drinking and driving while intoxicated. Too often, she said, students had not thought through all the potential consequences.

"They told us they didn't want to get busted," Fitzpatrick said. To get them thinking about other risks, coalition members worked with the students on information campaigns at their schools, an effort that included banners, brochures and discussions. That led to the idea of having students develop their own video messages.

The young producers used cartooning, amateur acting by friends and their native skills with hand-held video devices to get their messages across.

Police officer Jared Passchier, a project coordinator, said the power of the videos is that they are by young people for young people, not lectures from adults.

"We want to get the kids involved in the message about the dangers of underage drinking," he said. "This is a way for students to get the correct information to their peers. And there is impact in students supporting each other to make wise choices."

The videos were shown together in a movie theater in April, but Passchier said the messages mainly get views through Facebook, including the program's own site, facethebookmuskegon. Local broadcast stations have used a few of them as public service announcements. He said the adult coalition promotes the general concept and the students do the rest.


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