News

Youth drinking council starts small at first meeting

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

Jake Thoma had every reason to be stressed out at the first Reduce Underage Drinking Task Force Youth Council meeting Feb. 12.

The Sedgewick Junior High School seventh-grader sat perched in his chair, across a table from Kitsap County Human Services Planner Mary Ellen de la Peña and Kitsap County Traffic Safety Task Force Coordinator Carolyn Pence in a huge empty room at the Silverdale Community Center.

Far from being stressed, though, Jake shot rapid-fire ideas at the pair for a solid hour, while they discussed ways to curb underage drinking in the county.

“My mom’s on the road everyday, my dad’s on the road everyday, my sister’s gonna be on the road everyday,” Thoma said, while explaining his passion to fight drunk driving.

de la Peña and Pence could only beam.

“I like this kid,” Pence said.

“I do, too,” de la Peña said. “This is our youth council right here.”

And so it began.

The council, known as RUAD for short, is an extension of another group, the Kitsap Tobacco, Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (KTASC) which was “formalized” by the Kitsap County Health District at their Feb. 5 meeting.

KTASC is a group set up to curb substance abuse in Kitsap County. While it won’t receive any funding from the county — at least not yet — it will report regularly to the board of health.

“Having that linkage is something that many groups such as this long for,” de la Peña said. “I think we have a lot of potential to make some community changes with that linkage.”

RUAD grew out of the annual Kitsap County Youth Conference, which has taken place for the last several years.

“There was an effort to get youth input into that conference,” de la Peña said.

RUAD will report to KTASC just as KTASC will report to the health district, even though RUAD is really just Jake for now.

If the Feb. 12 meeting was any indication, de la Peña is going to have plenty of input from Thoma during his time with RUAD.

Thoma was a veritable fountain of suggestions, filling de la Peña and Pence with ideas about everything from which media outlets would best target kids to how parents could best prevent kids from abusing drugs and alcohol.

“This is the way to get through to a kid,” Thoma said, holding up a “Happy Bunny” sticker deriding alcohol abuse.

His enthusiasm and dedication may seem surprising for someone his age, but that’s how he’s always been.

“It’s his personality,” his mother, Kathie Thoma said. “He is just like that, he’s always been really involved in school and all that.”

He keeps anti-drug and drinking posters on his bedroom walls at home and has spent time working as an anchorman on his school’s closed-circuit morning broadcasts. That credential didn’t escape Pence or de la Peña, who suggested he could help them create an anti-drug and alcohol public service announcement to run during similar broadcasts.

“I’m amazed because his dad and I are neither (extremely outgoing),” Kathie Thoma said.

Jake will likely need help if RUAD is to be a lasting and worth-while expedition for KTASC — and de la Peña is eager to admit that more youth volunteers are needed — but de la Peña and Pence both recognize that everything has to start somewhere.

“This is a building year,” de la Peña said.

“And you are the building block,” Pence said, motioning to Jake.

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