This is the most important message that came out of the organizational meeting Tuesday night of a parent group dedicated to reducing the availability of alcohol and drugs to Pendleton's youth and the peer pressure that accompanies it: This is an adult problem and our kids are the victims.
To its credit, this new group isn't interested in pointing fingers, other than to say it's the entire community's responsibility to help its children avoid the pitfalls of illegal alcohol and drug use. The organizers of the group stress it's not just a police problem. It's not just a school problem. It's not just an issue for youth services agencies. And it's not just a concern for parents with teens.
Rather, it's a problem that encompasses a community's attitudes and values - and its resolve to be proactive rather than reactive to a problem that at its worst can be deadly.
Does Pendleton have a problem with youth abusing alcohol and drugs? Like virtually every community in the country, the answer is an unequivocal "yes," which invariably means Pendleton also has a problem with adults abusing alcohol and drugs. The Pendleton police have issued 126 citations so far this year for minors in possession of alcohol or drugs. It's also issued 80 citations for driving while intoxicated.
The newly-formed parent group, headed by Stuart Dick and Karen Crowder, intends to partner with existing agencies and groups that already deal with the problem. Its specific goals are:
Educate the public, specifically parents;
Support development of cooperative programs among the middle school, high school and police;
Support establishment of measurable programs and goals, including a community-wide mentoring program involving coaches and youth leaders at all levels, from youth sports to high school dance instructors;
Develop a positive relationship among the media, schools and local governments and private agencies to reduce underage drinking and drug abuse.
Those are big challenges, made even bigger by the unrelenting message coming from popular culture - movies, music and video games - that using alcohol and drugs, particularly marijuana, is not only OK but cool. The hypocrisy of adults hinders efforts to change that image. To be successful, any attempt in Pendleton to deglamorize alcohol must acknowledge that for at least one week each year this is a party town where excessive alcohol use is not only tolerated but sometimes promoted.
This group is in the formative stages, but the first meeting exposed some basic truths that should help guide it. Laws and police enforcement aren't the answer to winning the battle against harmful alcohol and drug use by our children, nor is more beds in the youth detention center or even tougher legislation regarding selling drugs or providing alcohol to minors. The key is adults who care enough about their children and their neighbor's children to try to make a difference by getting involved, speaking up, being examples of responsible behavior and working each day to make their community a little safer, a little better, and the future a little brighter.