Sobering Solutions

February 15, 2011 3:19:03 AM PST
A local community enlists teenagers to help fight a major problem -- underage drinking and its deadly consequences.

"An epidemic is occurring and what are we going to do about it?" said Mundelein Police Chief Ray Rose.

Mundelein Police Chief Ray Rose is fed up with the series of alcohol related crashes involving local teens.

"It's not OK to be having kids killed in traffic crashes," said Rose. "It's not OK to have kids experiencing brain damage because they're drinking."

Worried about local students, the community launched a countywide task force with the goal of saving kids' lives.

First, they stepped up enforcement by setting up stings.

Officers work with two underage girls and drive with them to places that sell alcohol throughout the village.

With our cameras rolling, at their first stop, a liquor store just blocks away from the police station, the girls tried their luck.

The girls showed the clerk their real underage ID but still bought a six pack.

"She sees the ID that says she's under 21 and still sells," said Mundelein police officer Brian Kisselburg.

Throughout the rest of the operation, the girls were turned away. At a Dominick's, they were shown the door shortly after arriving.

At a pub, the server turned them down.

"It could have been a very big mess," said Lenny Morgan, owner of Kaiser's Pizza.

On average, 84 percent of Mundelein businesses pass the test and don't sell underage.

In another new initiative, last year, 33 people were cited for "social hosting," a new ordinance in town that tickets adults that allow underage drinking parties in their homes.

Mundelein officials say writing tickets only goes so far. Instead, community leaders needed a fresh perspective.

"They feel like there is pressure if you want to be friends with some of those people to do what they do," said Krina Adhikari, a Mundelein senior.

Adhikari is in charge of a new student group that coordinates sober after-school activities.

"Focus on them - try to figure out why they're doing this and see what we can do to prevent it," said Adhikari.

While adults are at the monthly planning meetings, the students, some as young 11 years old, run the show.

"I like using social media to convince people to do other things," said Justin Fernandez of the Mundelein After School Coalition.

The student-run viral campaign appears to be working.

In 2008, 25.5 percent of Mundelein sixth through twelfth graders reported having something to drink in the last thirty days.

In 2010, that number has dropped to 21.5 percent.

"What we're really trying to do in Mundelein is to come together as a community," said Mundelien Stand-up Task Force Facilitator Karen Smith. "If we have our eyes open and we know what's really happening, and we hear it from youth, we're in a better position to do something about it."