December 12, 2017
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Peer program encourages sober youth-Aug. 1992

By: Irene Hilsendager
December 8, 2017

Partying under the influence of alcohol or drugs has become the norm for many of today’s teenagers, but in Sonoma County there is a program that is making a stand against that idea.

“Drive and party sober,” is what Friday Night Live is encouraging teenagers to do.

FNL, a county and state wide teen program, started six-and-a-half years ago as a project to discourage teens from driving under the influence. But over the years the project has developed into a peer program designed to prevent alcohol and drug use among teenagers, said Ellen Draper, FNL county coordinator.

According to Draper, FNL has five core program components including: chapters/clubs; assembly presentations; alternative activities; community action; and leadership training and conferences.

FNL chapters are located on high school campuses. Draper said an assembly that includes a multi-image slide presentation introduces high schools to FNL.

The media event uses six projectors and a large screen to portray three stories about teenagers and their shortcomings with alcohol related accidents.

The assembly also has four to five speakers, including teens to law enforcement officers. Draper said she is concerned with the negative image that a police officer has with teenagers. Therefore she personally interviews each officer before they become a guest speaker. She said police officers are chosen not only for their experiences with teenager who died due to an alcoholic related accident, but their sincerity in delivering that message to the teens.

At these assemblies, students are encourage to sign up to become members of FNL and make a stand by promoting driving and partying sober and drug-free. Students who become members receive a membership card that includes discounts at local businesses such as Burger King and a 24-hour hotline (528-41411) for free confidential help at the Orenda Center, a county alcohol treatment center.

County-wide chapter membership varies with the size of the high school Draper said, “Usually the bigger the high school the smaller the membership and the smaller the school is, the larger the membership.” she said. Yet membership size is determined by many other factors, Draper notes, such as the time allowed for students to sign up for membership. Students must also deal with the peer pressure of going against the idea that having fun includes drinking alcohol or using drugs.

“These teenagers are going against the tide without a paddle when they chose to make this stand,” she said,

Some of the events that FNL sponsors, which offers teens a drug and alcohol-free environment, are dances, teen comedy nights and in Sonoma at the Feed Store Café, teens can meet and enjoy music every Wednesday evening.

Other events include an Oakland A’s baseball game with a tailgate party, Red Ribbon Week-a national week encouraging people to be drug free and a Teen Leadership Conference led by New Bridges, an agency from the East Bay that specializes in sensitizing people to issues of prejudice and discrimination.

Last year was Rancho Cotate High School’s first year with a FNL chapter. Draper said the chapter met once a week and planned many activities such as having a float in the Rohnert Park Founder’s Day Parade, participating in Santa Rosa’s graffiti clean up day and having a 10-member team in Rancho’s 24 Hour Relay Challenge.

Students interested in Rancho’s FNL can contact students Carrie Caudill and Justine Dyer when school starts.

Currently, there are 42 counties in California that have FNL programs. Sonoma County FNL is yearly funded by a $15,000 grant from the State Drug and Tobacco Department and $65,000 from the county’s alcohol services.

Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.