Teens counter the "nothing to do blues"
"There's nothing to do." Surely, there is not a parent alive who has not heard that familiar lament.
A colorful flyer from the Youth Task Force of Martha's Vineyard included with today's issue of The Times may offer the perfect comeback. Printed on one side is a list of 101-plus things to do, for the humorist ("mow the lawn in designs") to the adventurer ("jump off the second bridge") to the humanitarian ("help out at the senior center").
The other side of the flyer offers a guide for youth and parents regarding drug information and resources for help. The flyer was put together by a group focusing on substance abuse as part of the Island-wide Youth Task Force (YTF).
Cindy Doyle of the Dukes County Health Council formed the task force, targeted at ages 12 to 20, about a year and a half ago. After completing an Island-wide survey, the YTF hired the services of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management of Brandeis University to facilitate a forum involving educators, social service agencies, law enforcement personnel, cultural groups, parents, and students from Island-wide. The Heller School group also will work with the task force to develop a 10-year plan to address the issues raised by the survey.
After a meeting last January, the YTF set up working groups to address issues identified by the forum participants. The substance abuse group met and decided to put together a flyer for public awareness about drugs, their effects, warning signs of usage, and resources for getting help.
But rather than just emphasizing the negative, Ms. Doyle said the group suggested using the other side of the flyer to list the many activities kids could do as an alternative to substance abuse.
As group member Jane Dreeben, a psychologist who works with the Church Street Collaborative, explained, "The substance abuse group is interested in encouraging the community, young people and adults, to focus on the positive things in life. There is a strong culture of substance abuse here. We're interested in providing information about those activities to make sure people are fully informed, and also interested in offering ideas about other ways to have fun."
Part of the focus of the task force is to appreciate the capabilities and strengths of young people, Ms. Dreeben said. The substance abuse group asked Anna Markwica, a high school junior who serves on the YTF executive board, to organize some Martha's Vineyard Regional High School students for a brainstorming session. She and seven students, all juniors and seniors, met with YTF group members including Ms. Doyle and Ms. Dreeben, and Mike Joyce, a retired Edgartown School guidance counselor, and Bill Jones, a retired Oak Bluffs School guidance counselor.
"We were asked to think of things to do on the Island," Ms. Markwica recalled, adding that after only 10 minutes, the students came up with 101-plus suggestions.
"In pulling a group of students together, an incredible amount of creative ideas came out of it," Ms. Dreeben said. "We took our cues from the young people on how to present the information. I understand some of the adults there took it home and put in on their refrigerator so they will be inspired."
As chair of the substance abuse group, Shawn Schofield, a juvenile probation officer, helped compile the substance abuse information and format both sides of the flyer. "We're hoping it's something that parents and kids will grab," he said.
Mr. Jones said he especially enjoyed the brainstorming session because some of the participants were his former students. "It was great to reconnect with them, and see how they have matured and generate ideas. The ideas started rolling, and we sat back in awe."
The flyer turned out so well, the committee and students are thinking about having the 101-plus things to do list printed on T-shirts and selling them at Island events. One student suggested having the list printed upside down on the front of the shirt, so the wearer can glance down to read it. Suggestions for the back of the shirt included printing the list right side up, or adding the slogan, "Boredom is a state of mind."
"The kids also talked about giving every graduating eighth-grader one of the T-shirts," said Mr. Jones. "Between eighth and ninth grade is a vulnerable time for kids to make a choice about using drugs and alcohol. Maybe it will help them make good decisions."
The YTF continues to move forward. A resource mapping group is developing a web site that will offer information about everything from recreational activities to support services as a sort of "teen Yellow Pages."
Another group chaired by Mr. Jones is working to develop an Island mentoring program for youth in conjunction with Mass Mentoring Partnerships, a Boston-based organization. Two other working groups will focus on parent support and awareness, and out-of-school and after-school activities.