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Tales of alcohol abuse serve as warnings
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Just a handful of parents, pre-teens and teenagers turned up Thursday night for an underage drinking town hall meeting sponsored by Youth Expressions Inc., a community-based after-school program for teens. However, director Cassandra Finley expressed confidence that “those who are here were supposed to be her e.”
The town hall meeting opened with statistics about underage drinking and a short documentary film, shot in the trauma unit of a hospital, where underage drinkers were being treated after they’d been involved in vehicle accidents.
Randy Frost, who counsels youth and families, opened the panel discussion by talking about his experiences with drinking at an early age. “The first beer I ever had was at 10 years old, and my dad gave it to me,” Frost said, describing a pivotal moment with his alcoholic father. From that, Frost said, he learned that “if it’s OK to do at home, it’s OK to do.”
Frost said when youth drink, it leads to a host of other problems in addition to likely consequences such as DUIs and fatal accidents. “About 5,000 teens die in alcohol-related incidents every year,” Frost said. “If you start at an early age you are five times more likely to have a problem later on.”
The message that parents strongly influence the decisions their children make, including using alcohol, was repeated throughout the evening’s presentations.
Natasha Gregory volunteered to tell her story, one of recovery that has involved time spent learning how to overcome drugs and alcohol through the assistance of Liberty County’s drug court.
“I began drinking and smoking at the age of 13. My mom and I had more of a friendship than a mother-daughter relationship,” which allowed her to do pretty much whatever she wanted, Gregory recalled. “At age 16 was when I first got really, really drunk. I woke up with bruises on my head and back.”
Gregory said not knowing who she’d been around and not remembering the night’s events was frightening, but it didn’t keep her from continuing to drink and smoke marijuana. After she was jailed at 17 for possession, she began dancing and continued to use both alcohol and drugs. Then she was offered a chance to participate in drug court.
“It changed my life,” she said. “Now I go to bed at 10. I wake up early, and I have a 9-to-5 job — a real job, which I didn’t have before.”
Gregory said though staying on the right path is a struggle, she strives to be an example to her young daughter. “I want her to look at me and see not my wrongs, but my rights.”
Irene McCall, executive director of the Atlantic Area CASA, admonished the teens in attendance to think about how their actions will affect others. “What the youth do affects the entire community,” McCall said. “Every Wednesday at 9 a.m. the courthouse is overflowing with young men and women” having to account for their behavior.
Ironically, those youth are the same who often complain there’s nothing to do in the county, McCall said. She countered the argument by saying that if money wasn’t being spent dealing with underage drinking cases, it could be spent on providing young people with more recreational opportunities.
Cedric Robinson, coach of the Liberty County Blazers — formerly Walthourville Blazers — attended the meeting and let parents know that a little support goes a long way, even for the youth who aren’t their own children. He said many of his basketball players get little or no support from their own parents.
“All these kids want is someone to push them. When you see these kids out here, don’t look at them sideways, just give them a hug,” he said.

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