The Catoosa Alcohol Prevention Initiative may soon lose its snappy acronym when it expands into Walker County, but this is alright with the program's leaders.
"Our community extends outside the county limits," said Candy Hullender, a CAPI coordinator. "We are excited about the opportunity to expand our services."
Created in October 2009 to combat underage drinking, CAPI, jointly funded by the state's Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the county's taxpayers, operates as part of the local Family Collaborative.
"Catoosa County has one of the state's highest underage drinking arrest and, for all ages, alcohol-related fatality and accident rates in the state," Family Collaborative Director Phil Ledbetter said. "We chose to concentrate on reducing underage drinking."
Hullender and CAPI coordinator Colleen Crawford devoted the program's first year to town hall meetings, statistical analysis and consulting with local officials to assess the situation.
"We wanted to know how the community felt about the issue," Crawford said.
The coordinators first studied statistical and anecdotal evidence of the underage drinking problem. Next, they determined what resources were available to counter juvenile access to alcohol and developed a strategic plan to combat this crime.
That plan, which focuses on 11- to 14-year-old middle-schoolers and their parents, was put into action throughout 2011.
CAPI education has become a regular part of middle school life in Catoosa's three middle schools, and a similar program is offered at LaFayette Middle School.
The newest grant makes it possible to add Rossville and Chickamauga middle schools to the program.
"A lot of parents don't realize this is such a problem in our community," Crawford said. "They don't realize the problem is in their own home or in the homes of their children's friends."
Easy access to alcohol, unawareness of potential alcohol-related health and legal problems and a "kids will be kids" attitude are all contributing factors that result in Catoosa County having the state's sixth-highest arrest rate for underage drinking.
"We're not prohibitionists, but we are trying to change community norms," Crawford said. "We want the youngsters to develop the social skills necessary to making good choices."
Early intervention is key to helping teens make better choices, which is why CAPI targets middle- schoolers, he said.
"Education is so important," Hullender said. "We can provide reasons why they [students] should not use and abuse alcohol."
Teaching adults and teens how they can be firm, clear and consistent in these alcohol abstinence efforts led to the ongoing "Be the Wall" between teens and alcohol campaign.
"It takes the entire community working together to address what is a community issue," Hullender said.
No community is an island, which is why the Family Collaborative has received an additional grant that will also broaden the program's reach through expanding the targeted age group to include those 8 to 25 years old, in addition to expanding the program's geographic reach.
The eventual goal is to form a multi-county drug- free coalition, but for now the CAPI initiative aims to "generate discussion and thought about the underage drinking in the family, in the classroom and in the community."