It takes a village

Summit will give youth, adults tools to make community safe

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007

If your child knew someone who was being bullied, would he or she have the courage or even the tools to stop it? Would your child be able to recognize the warning signs in someone who's suicidal or have an idea how to prevent vehicle accidents?

DARE Alaska Inc. hopes that by attending the Alaska Student Safety Summit on Dec. 10 and 11, law enforcement, community and youth leaders, teachers and students will gain the knowledge and materials necessary to make their communities safer. The summit will be held at Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage and will include guest speakers lecturing on topics ranging from cold water immersion and boating safety to preventing targeted violence in school.

Naomi Sweetman, executive director for DARE Alaska Inc. and statewide coordinator of the DARE program, said law enforcement, teachers and community and faith-based leaders deal with the same student safety issues, but they do so on an individual basis. This summit is designed to bring them together, allowing them to collaborate on ways they can address those issues with the idea that it would strengthen communities.

"It meets the mission of DARE Alaska, which is (building) healthy kids and healthy communities," Sweetman said. "The board has been working to bring identified key speakers who are from Alaska or outside of Alaska, who can bring information to the conference that would provide them with the tools and information they can take home no matter where they live in Alaska."

This is the first summit of its kind in the state of Alaska. Sweetman said after seven years of fundraising to purchase student workbooks and augment training for police officers, as well as several separate conferences dealing on a single topic, a conference that is community-centered will fit the needs of major cities like Anchorage and Juneau as well as smaller towns here on the Kenai Peninsula. Scholarships will be available to students who can tell Sweetman how they will be able to use information gained at the summit to benefit their community.

"We're encouraging communities to bring a team," she said, adding that Juneau and Barrow law enforcement and educators are both bringing students. "(The) encouraging idea is collaboration."

Tony Garcia, the DARE officer for the Soldotna Police Department, hopes his presentation on prescription drug abuse will set an example for other communities who are looking to start the DARE program themselves. Garcia's presentation will illustrate the dangers associated with pain pills and other addictive prescription medications.

"Last I heard Alaska was number one in the nation per capita for prescription drug abuse," he said. "I have not heard anything recently to suggest that's no longer the case. I believe if we educate people, that is the first step toward resolving it."

Garcia said he hopes that after attending his presentation, people will not only follow the instructions of their medical provider, but make sure kids don't have direct access to the drugs.

"So many people think that because a doctor, a physician or a provider gives them to you, it's safe to take," Garcia said. "They don't always follow the guidelines."

Garcia also said that he's looking forward to attending Matt Farnsworth's presentation on methamphetamine entitled "Meth Monster," and hopes he can add it to his own presentation come spring.

Sweetman said other presentations will include a training session that will provide people who aren't therapists the tools they need to identify someone who's suicidal and what they can do about it. Denice Koebcke, a middle school language arts teacher, will also give a presentation on the bystander leadership approach to bullying. Sweetman said the DARE program hopes to do this again next year, but said that would depend on this year's attendance.

Sweetman said the cost to register is $50 for students and $325 for adults. Registration forms and scholarship applications are available on the Internet at www.signup4.com/aksummit.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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