hcckidsbannerBy Eva Potter

We all know about the dangers and consequences of drunk driving, but what about the risks of underage drinking? That’s where Healthy Cattaraugus County (HCC): A Drug Free Coalition comes in.

“The Healthy Cattaraugus County (HCC) Drug Free Coalition’s purpose is to prevent underage drinking in Cattaraugus County and to promote healthy alternatives for youth in grades 9-12,” explained Anne Conroy-Baiter, coalition marketing chair and executive director of the Cattaraugus County Arts Council.

HCC’s mission is to “foster the collaboration of resources to create a community where all youth can develop into caring, healthy and productive adults without the problems created by underage drinking.”

Healthy Cattaraugus County Coordinator Catherine Speroni said, “HCC came out of the realization from our Prevention Needs Assessment Surveys in 2009 that Cattaraugus County has a significantly higher state and national average for underage drinking.”

Conroy-Baiter said, “We’re also working to actively increase awareness in adults of the legal ramifications of providing alcohol to minors. An extensive marketing campaign — Your life. Your choice. — has been launched with events, a website, social media, surveys, youth engagement, and advertisements designed to educate, inform and empower.”

HCC’s message is, “Know the Risks. Step out from the Rest. Find Alternatives.” Their tag line — “Your Life. Your Choice.” — is designed to empower teens and young adults to take control of their decisions and encourage positive alternatives.

According to Speroni, in March of 2010, Healthy Cattaraugus County: A Drug Free Coalition submitted a grant request for a Strategic Planning Framework – State Incentive Grant.

“We were awarded the grant in 2011 for $831,000 over a 3 ½-year period to reduce underage drinking in 9-12th grade using environmental strategies,” said Speroni.

HCC has teamed up with other coalition leaders from 12 sectors in the county including business, media, parents, youth,  law enforcement, faith based groups, tribal officials, local government, educators, healthcare, civic or volunteer groups, and other youth serving agencies. The ultimate goal is to educate the underage sector in Cattaraugus County to make smarter, healthier choices.

To help spread the message, HCC is currently scheduling Prevention Needs Assessment Surveys in all 14 of the area schools. It also utilizing CAReS, Inc. prevention specialists who do programming in the contracted schools to promote HCC. The HCC coalition is also working with law enforcement for enhanced party patrols to keeps residents educated and safe from the dangers associated with underage drinking.

“I would like readers to know that HCC is not here to police Cattaraugus County,” said Speroni. “Our goal is and will always be to elevate knowledge regarding the benefits of healthy living through healthy activities reinforcing the obvious dangers of underage drinking and all that that entails.”

HCC is conducting  a training series to educate all sectors regarding Your Life. Your Choice. In this series, they are “holding retreats and utilizing local resources, such as AKT Academy, to promote team building skills, self-control and respect.”

It’s important for the youth in this county to know there are many fun and healthy options to drinking alcohol.

“There are many great, positive things to do in our county. Holiday Valley, for example, is nationally ranked in the top five for ski resorts on the East Coast. We have richness and beauty in our county … and there are things to do. We just need to be reminded of them and take advantage of what is naturally ours,” said Speroni.

If you would like to become involved in HCC or just learn more about our mission and goals, please call 716-373-5202, ext. 520, or email info@yourlife-yourchoice.com. More information is available at www.yourlife-yourchoice.com.