From Traffic Safety to Making NOYS, Youth Step Up for Change
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor
In 2000, the number of alcohol-related fatalities on the road increased for the first time in five years. With the holidays officially here and more Americans relying on driving as their means of transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is hoping to educate individuals both old and young on ways they can be safe.
"The number [of fatalities] has increased [to almost 17,000 in 2000], which is not good, but the NHTSA hopes to see our goal of 11,000 fatalities by the year 2005," says Cheryl Neverman, the NHTSA's Youth Outreach Coordinator.
December marks National Drunk and Drugged Driving (3D) Prevention Month and, to raise awareness, the NHTSA is providing free, on-line resources full of suggestions and ideas on how everyone, especially youth, can be in on the fun of the holidays in a way that protects themselves and others.
Providing Planning Help for Substance-Free Events
The NHTSA is one of over 50 organizations, companies and government agencies that make up National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), a coalition that assists over 11 million youth members in improving health and safety issues in their community. From leadership training to speaking out as safety advocates, NOYS involves youth in every stage of its activities while also pooling the group's numerous resources to enact social change.
Two years ago, in preparation for the coming millennium celebration, NHTSA and NOYS created Make Your Parties Rock...Substance Free, a planning guide for youth to join in on the celebration.
"In our meetings with youth, they kept referring to how all they heard [in preparation for New Year's Eve] were adults and commercials advising to get their champagne early this year, using alcohol to celebrate," says Neverman. "They wanted to focus on, first, that it was OK for youth to celebrate the millennium as well as other events and second, that they can celebrate, but don't need alcohol to do it."
In addition to providing an online planning guide for youth to create, organize and advertise substance-free events, NOYS also encouraged youth to register their party on-line, so that other youth could attend events in their area. In six months, the organization registered 1400 parties nationwide.
This year, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), another member of NOYS, has adapted the planner into its "Think About It...." campaign of events, as part of a cooperative agreement with the NHTSA. "Think About It...New Year's Eve: The Power of Commitment" will provide students with the tools to create an all-night celebration free of alcohol or drugs. SADD chapters in schools will spearhead the events and enlist the support of parents, teachers, law enforcement, businesses and the media.
To download the planner, go to: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/alcohol/3d/04_Youth.pdf
On their own websites, the NHTSA and NOYS also provide a party planner for any event throughout the year. The Guide to Safe and Sober Event Planning aids youth in making their event memorable for positive reasons.
"From planning a small gathering to a prom, graduation or the 4th of July, here are great ideas to do the cool thing and change the social norm," says Neverman. "Have people recruit a number of others who want to do this and show that [having a substance-free event] is OK and doesn't mean you are standing out among peers. These people are never promoted, only people that participate in negative [events] like raves. This is an opportunity to use a tool developed by youth, for youth."
Aiding Youth Advocacy
In addition to focusing on events, NOYS also aids youth to become better advocates in their community. The goal of the program "Speak Out and Make NOYS" is to empower youth by helping them make their voices heard on any number of issues facing them.
For the program, NOYS developed the Youth Changing the World Project Manual that shares success stories, spotlights the hard work of peers and provides inspiration and ideas for motivated youth. The manual also includes planning information for youth on instituting projects in their school and neighborhood and provides information from how to recruit peers to planning expenses.
"[Things like the manual] are what the kids ask for versus another brochure [on an issue]," says Neverman, who is actively involved with NOYS. "We ask 'how can we put something in your hands to make you a better advocate.' Youth want to be the leaders, not have adults do it for them so we support that by developing the tools that they need."
For Neverman, peer-to-peer interaction absolutely delivers a better message than hearing it from adults.
"It is so hard for adults," she says. "We continue to send police officers, judges and nurses into schools and they are all great and have the best intentions, but that role is better spent by providing youth with a plan to advocate on a one-to-one or one-to-1000 basis."
She adds that often, people in various positions of power are overused to deliver a message while "local heroes," like a school football star, leader of student government or any student that kids can look up to and will trust can be a better ambassador of that message.
"[NOYS' programs] make individual leaders first by [aiding youth] study the issue and teach them to use the materials used by those in the government and others to speak from knowledge and how to express their fears and concerns," she says. "Kids need to hear that from another kid."
Neverman points to the "call me card" created by NOYS youth as a response to an idea designed by adults - the parent-youth contract. The call me card is used if a youth is in a situation where they are at-risk or unsure and need to call upon a peer to pick them up, provide help or whatever they need.
"It says 'I'll help you, won't question you and won't ask you all about it in the morning,'" she says.
The Need to Empower Youth
According to Neverman, NOYS brings organizations together that usually battle for funding and instead, helps them collaborate and identify each other's strengths and weaknesses. By grouping resources, these youth can work more effectively to make change no matter their location or the cause.
"The skills [NOYS] teach are applicable to any issue - being a good advocate, a good representative of your organization, " she says. "All these organizations have the opportunity to share information and look at how they can be involved."
An advocate for empowerment, Neverman says that youth need to be provided with education and information, the tools to advocate as well as resources and support for their efforts.
"Youth are not a target [population] or a group we do something for - we need to start working with them and respect them as the key contributor they are," she says. "[In turn], youth need to look for organizations to help them learn skills, whether it be a high school, church, YMCA or anywhere."
As proof of the power of organized youth, Neverman recalls the answer a 15-year-old youth advocate gave to an interviewer who asked if it felt unusual to be so passionate about an issue.
"She said 'when I started high school, I was looking for support in terms of peers who had the same thinking I have. I know I could go anywhere on the weekend and drink, but I sought out other youth who felt the way I did with the hopes that other youth will find a group to become friends with and look up to as a role model so they are not alone,'" says Neverman.
This message was repeated by other youth after a school shooting incident in California. Gathered at a conference watching the events unfold, youth advocates were asked the same question as those being interviewed by a local television station - if you knew this person had a gun and thought of doing this, why didn't you go to the authorities?
"For these kids, it clearly made it more difficult [to report something like this], not having other youth stand with them," says Neverman.
By surrounding themselves with others, she adds, it gives them power and motivation to change negative portrayals of youth.
"[Youth should] seek out others and change the social norm to 'most kids are good," she says. "They are not what television, movies and newspapers say they are, they are not all bad - lots of kids know how to do the right thing."
For more information on 3D Prevention Month, go to: www.3dmonth.org.
For more information on NOYS, go to: www.noys.org.
For information on SADD's "Think About It...New Year's Eve: The Power of Commitment," go to: http://www.saddonline.com/thinkabout1.htm.
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