A passionate crowd of about 300 children, teens, volunteers and parents turned out April 5 to participate in "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking" Fool's Day Fun Event
The community event, sponsored by Southwest Behavioral Health and Rim Guidance Center, was held in the Rim Country Middle School gymnasium.
The free three-hour long festivities offered to parents many ways and methods they can use to initiate discussions with their children about the dangers of under-age drinking.
"Studies have shown if children drink before they are 21 (years) it changes their brain chemistry," retired Payson High School counselor Dean Pederson said.
"We wanted to let parents know that underage drinking is not a rite of passage, it's not something that has to happen."
Pederson is also sure those who engage in underage drinking are at risk later in life
"There is a much greater chance they (underage drinkers) will have issues or problems with alcohol as adults," he said.
In setting up the underage drinking seminar, Pederson and fellow counselors took on the task convinced there is an underage drinking problem in Payson.
"We did a survey and we found out we have a large teenage drinking problem here" he said. "We don't have many doubts about that."
As evidence, Pederson pointed to a front-page story in the April 8 edition of the Payson Roundup entitled "Police cite a dozen at booze party."
In it, reporter Teresa McQuerrey wrote, "all but one of those arrested was cited for underage drinking."
"That's the kind of problems we are talking about," Pederson said.
During the community event, which drew volunteers from the Payson Police Department, Payson Unified School District, the Gila County Meth Coalition, Gila County Sheriff's Posse, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gila County Advocacy Center and Child Protective Service, the participants engaged in myriad of festivities including games, contests and prizes.
There was also free food, giveaways, face painting booths, skits and puppet shows.
"We wanted to create a fun, carnival-like atmosphere," Pederson said.
The prizes and food were donated by 32 local businesses.
"We are very grateful to them," Pederson said.
The highlight of the afternoon might have been the announcement of the winners of a fourth-grade poster contest and a fifth-grade essay challenge held earlier in the week.
Isaiah Campbell was first in the essay contest. The second-place winner is not named to protect the student and their family. Payton Hannasch was third.
In the poster competition, Heather Brown finished first, Tyler Porter was second and Kandace Bias third.
At the conclusion of the day, Pederson deemed the program "a huge success" and a public offering that took the sponsors one step closer to reaching their goal of a healthier community.
ESSAY CONTEST WINNERS
by Isaiah Campbell
Payson Elementary fifth-grade student
Alcohol use before the age of 21 is very dangerous. It can affect your lungs, brain, heart, liver, throat, mouth and heart. At the age of 19 and below you should not drink.
No matter how old you are you should never do drugs, but that's not the subject. Alcohol is illegal for kids under the age of twenty one, and kids aren't as careful as some adults. Alcohol is very dangerous. It messes up your thinking.
Some people even go crazy. You also see double, slur your speech, and lose your sense of distance. Drinking and driving is very dangerous! Alcohol related car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in the United States! If you think it can't happen to you, look around.
Check your school's yearbook for the last 10 years. How many were dedicated to a student who was killed in a drunk driving crash?
Ask your friends how many people they know who have had bad things happen to them when they or someone else was drinking. Take a good look at how the alcohol industry tries to convince people to use its products. Like, advertisements that feature celebrities and sport figures, but drinking will not make you famous or athletic.
You don't even have to be the one drinking. Some passengers may be just normal but the driver isn't. Never be friends with an alcoholic. It could cause you injury or death. No matter what the situation, drinking under the age of 21 is illegal.
By a Julia Randall fifth-grade student
Editor's Note: The student's name is not being used to protect the student and family.
I am going to be telling you why I think parents should teach their kids not to drink under the age of 21.
The reason I think they should teach kids not to drink is because the effect of alcohol destroyed my family. My father is an alcoholic and he left my mother for a woman who drank like him. Before he left he was mean, yelled a lot, and spent most of our money on alcohol. I even saw him hit my mom several different times.
When he wasn't drinking he never really felt like doing anything with us. In fact, he slept all the time even through my ninth birthday party and when we woke him up to watch me and my twin sister blow out the candles he yelled and said "to leave him alone".
My father started drinking when he was 12, and this caused him not to graduate from high school, or even the eighth grade. He is a construction worker with no other skills. Now that houses aren't selling he doesn't have a job. He hasn't helped my mom support my brother and sisters and me at all, and now he can't support his new baby either.
Since he left and there is no alcohol problems in our house we have had many wonderful things happen. We are building a Habitat for Humanity house, we go to church every Sunday, and my mom received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Phoenix. I think alcohol ruins lives, but my family is not letting it ruin ours anymore!
by Payton Hannasch
Payson Elementary fifth-grade student
OK, let's get down to business. Today I'm going to talk about the dangers of alcohol. Before you start drinking alcohol you have to be twenty-one years old. It is illegal if you start drinking alcohol under the age of twenty-one. Some dangers of drinking too much alcohol are hurting yourself, hurting others, or killing. You could go to jail for hurting someone, killing someone, and some other things.
Now if your parents like a glass of wine or a can of beer that's ok. It may not be your parents, but a lot of people make a bad choice to drink too much alcohol.
Let me tell you this, a lot of good people made a bad choice. A lawyer was a good citizen. He killed someone for drinking too much alcohol. Like I said, there are a lot of dangers of drinking alcohol in this world. Start talking before they start drinking. That was for your parents.