Malibu takes stand against teen alcohol, drug use

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The Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families and the local Boys and Girls Club plan to tackle alcohol and drug use by Malibu teens head on-by implementing a nationally recognized prevention program.

By Johalmo Morales/Special to the Malibu Times

Malibu teens have become a main focus of concern recently for educators and parents in this coastal city. This, in part, is a result from a number of reported incidents in the past years involving Malibu teens and alcohol, but also because of results from a recent survey.

In early May last year, eight Malibu High School students were disciplined for being under the influence of alcohol at their senior prom and 20 students were caught drinking while on a school trip to New York. Some believe these were not isolated incidents. A survey done by Malibu High School shows how intertwined alcohol and drugs are with Malibu teens. The 2002-2003 study on Malibu teens showed 32 percent of high school freshmen and 39 percent of seniors admitted to using illegal drugs in the past 30 days, while almost nearly half of the freshmen and almost three-quarters of the seniors admitted to having at least one drink in the past 30 days.

Not willing to ignore the problem any longer, the Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families, along with other members of the Malibu community, is working together to help untangle teens from premature drinking and illegal drug usage. In order to help deal with the drug and alcohol problem teens are facing, the Boys and Girls Club of Malibu Teen Center has brought the nationally recognized SMART Moves prevention program to Malibu.

Jennifer Waterhouse Pietro, executive director for the Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families, said the problem is obvious because of the number of incidents reported in the media, the number of treatment centers (not that they all cater to teens), numerous programs that include AA and emerging programs that now give parents information.

SMART Moves (Skills Mastery and Resistance Training) is a prevention program implemented in other Boys and Girls Clubs of America across the nation and is currently in the process of beginning several subprograms.

A prevention program, Pietro said, is directed and supported by a group of individuals and organizations within the community. The long list of individuals includes Laure Stern, president of the MFYF, treasurer Robyn Gibson and the Rotary Club of Malibu, just to name a few.

Older teens taking part in SMART Moves will participate in programs training them to become mentors to younger teens and thereby reaching all levels of Malibu High School. This allows younger teens to be mentored, but also to help older teens retain the prevention message they teach.

Funding is required to enable a program like SMART Moves to make a broad and measurable impact.

“The city of Malibu and Rotary Club of Malibu have come to donate grants of $12,500 and $2,500, respectively,” Pietro said. But the biggest pledge of $125,000, she said, has been made by the Renaissance Malibu treatment facility. Renaissance Malibu has promised to give $25,000 a year for the following five years to the SMART Moves program. It is a pledge Pietro is thankful for, she said, because it brings in corporate players and asks for nothing in return.

Dr. Sal Petrucci, chief executive for Renaissance Malibu, said it was not a difficult decision to make. “I have a vision to help shed life on children,” said Petrucci, who has school age children, which he said makes the issue even more important to him.

With the pledge, the Boys and Girls Club of Malibu now has a full-time director of Specialty Programs, Kristi Dick, who will plan activities and work with teens on a regular basis. Dick says she will provide them with facts and enable them to understand their roles as leaders through activities and discussion forums.

One example in mind is a relay race. Teens will run a segment and get questioned on a substance of some sort and, in order to allow the next person to continue the race, the teen must get the right answer.

Also, some ideas to deal with the issues teens face will be derived by teens themselves. “Who better to think of ways of dealing with issues teens face than teens?” Dick asked rhetorically.

A media program that allows teens to make movies is also the first of its kind to be implemented in the Boys and Girls Club.

SMART Girls and Passage to Manhood are also programs currently in the works. SMART Girls is specifically designed to teach girls how to deal with issues growing up, like food disorders, early sexual behavior and other issues only girls face. The program for 6th and 7th grade girls began Feb. 1, and is expected to expand to other grades by April 8. Passage to Manhood is designed to teach boys to deal with their issues growing up. There is no date set for it to begin, but Dick hopes it will also start April 8.

More information about the SMART Moves and other programs can be obtained by contacting the MFYF at 310.589.8363 or by logging on to www.malibuyouth.org. The Boys and Girls Club of Malibu can be contacted by calling 310.457.2582.