Francisca Benitez

On Thursday, the Center for Human Development and Union County Safe Communities Coalition hosted a town hall titled “Parenting is Prevention” in the La Grande Middle School commons, educating parents and students about the dangers of alcohol.

Speakers included Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen; Sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer Tony Humphries; Kevin Loveland, owner of Loveland Funeral Chapel & Crematory; and Robin Wortman, Union County Safe Communities Coalition coordinator. Karrine Brogoitti, regional publisher of The Observer and former Union County Chamber of Commerce president, and Stu Spence, the City of La Grande’s Parks & Recreation director, introduced the event and the speakers.

The town hall was funded by a state grant for programming aimed at preventing teen drinking and prescription drug misuse. About 15 parents and children were in attendance.

The town hall started off showing an educational video about teen drinking. It depicted a classroom with the teacher dispelling some common misconceptions about teen drinking.

Then, Wortman presented data from the 2018 Oregon Student Wellness Survey. The data showed that among 11th-graders, Union county students drank less than the state average. In the survey, 15.9% of 11th graders in Union county reported having at least one alcoholic beverage on one to two days out of the last 30 days. The state average was 18.8%.

However, Wortman pointed out that for students in sixth and eighth grade, Union County is consistently higher than the state level. The survey indicated that 14.4% of eighth-graders reported having at least one alcoholic beverage on one to two days out of the last 30 days, while the state average was 10.7%.

Wortman said 61.2% of Union County 11th-graders think that it would be easy or very easy to get alcoholic beverages. She said this highlights the importance of parents and adults keeping their alcohol locked up.

“If you have alcohol, if you have marijuana or prescription drugs, keeping them locked up is one way to help safeguard the youth,” she said.

Sheriff Rasmussen introduced Humphries and encouraged parents to keep an eye on their children to prevent dangerous behavior, suggesting monitoring their cellphone use.

Humphries is a school resource officer in several Union County schools. He shared a story about a seventh-grade girl who brought alcohol to school. The alcohol belonged to her parents, who didn’t know she had taken it.

“There are other stories like that from other schools,” he said. “Shockingly, kids in seventh grade — even fifth grade — bring alcohol to school, bring marijuana to school, and think that’s okay,” he said.

He stressed the importance of parents and family members making time to ask students about what goes on at school and with their friends. “I think it’s very very important … to have that family connection,” he said. “Ask your children how their day went.”

The deputy said that simple efforts can encourage teenagers to open up and talk about alcohol and drug use.

Loveland gave an emotional testimony about one of his best friends who was killed in a drunk driving accident.

“That event changed my life forever,” he said as he shared several photos of his longtime friend Brett Marten and himself.

Loveland said it is difficult to get students to take the dangers of drinking and driving seriously.

“When I give these talks, most kids are listening but some aren’t. I was one of those kids, and so was he,” he said, motioning to another photo of Marten.

See complete story in Friday's Observer