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Recent Survey measures Kandiyohi County's readiness to tackle, prevent teenage drinking

WILLMAR -- On a readiness scale, Kandiyohi County falls somewhere between "denial/resistance" and "vague awareness" of local underage alcohol use and efforts to prevent it.

The readiness survey was conducted this past winter to help the Kandiyohi County Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Coalition chart its future direction.

Understanding the community's level of readiness will help the group target its activities more effectively, said Rick Loseth, one of the coalition's leaders.

"It gives you a better snapshot of where the larger community is," he said. "It's really a key part of that whole strategizing."

The group, whose membership ranges from law enforcement to public health, was formed last year to address drug prevention in Kandiyohi County.

It is focusing in particular on reducing the incidence of underage drinking.

The coalition applied for a federal grant to help kick-start its programming. Members will know by late August whether their application was successful.

In the meantime, the group has been doing a community assessment so that it can better determine where its priorities should lie.

It's an important step to take because strategies often don't work if they're implemented too soon, said Renee Brandt, regional prevention coordinator with Project Turnabout.

"It's so we aren't spending money and wasting it in places where it isn't going to do any good," she said. "What's working in some communities isn't working in others. It's based on how ready the community is."

The sample size for the survey -- six people -- was small, but the survey itself was in-depth, including nearly three dozen questions.

"It's been a fairly well-tested model," Loseth said.

The survey was designed to measure the respondents' awareness of underage drinking and what's being done locally about underage drinking. Based on the answers, scores then were assigned on a nine-point scale ranging from "no awareness" to "high level of community ownership."

On all of the measures, Kandiyohi County fell at the low end of the scale.

These results "really are not a surprise," Loseth said. "You normally have a group of people sitting around the table who are more aware of the issues, and this group is generally ahead of the population as a whole. What we need to do is connect with where the population is as a whole."

What the readiness survey tells the coalition is that it needs to concentrate on building the awareness level first, before undertaking larger activities, Loseth said. "If we skip too many of those stages, we're spinning our wheels."

"It does make a difference in how you want to frame messages," Brandt said. "It's the little things right now that will make a big difference."