Footloose and substance-free buzzwords for the 'in' prom crowd The Party Line

May 20, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

They've listened to the message: Don't drink and drive.

They've seen the commercial: This is your brain. Splat! Sizzle! This is your brain on drugs.

They've known for years that: Friends don't let friends drive drunk.

But are they heeding these sobriety messages?

Lots of anecdotal and some qualitative evidence says yes.

"We've been doing the after-prom alternative parties for four years although we've been doing prom awareness for years," says Michael Gimbel, director of Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse. "The number of parties has grown from four the first year to 17 this year."

More teens do seem to be skipping the customary after-prom booze binges as the number of alcohol- and drug-free parties at homes, schools and local restaurants increase.

Parental pressure and activism are playing major roles in the change. And coordinators have figured out how to gear the parties to kids' tastes and entice them into attending -- big-ticket door prizes have proven effective. But whatever the reasons, alcohol- and drug-free parties are growing in popularity with students.

In Ellicott City, one teen is throwing a house party at which she insists neither alcohol nor drugs will be allowed. "They can not come if they are drunk or getting high," says 16-year-old Sydney Lewis, the party host.

"We feel that if you need alcohol to change, you must be a really boring person," says friend Liz Fort, 16.

"It's become more acceptable as the way to celebrate, the 'in' thing," says Joyce Brown, Howard County government's substance-abuse coordinator. "They are not just going because their parents say, 'Don't drink and drive,' " she says. "They are going because the parties are fun."

A group of Loch Raven High School seniors who plan on attending an alcohol- and drug-free party next week agree.

"Good prizes," says Tiffani Tucker, 17, explaining the major attraction -- door prizes that include items such as CD players.

"That's what draws us," agreed Mary Edwards, 18. "And the 'grub.' "

"It's just fun," says 18-year-old Amber Marcum.

Another plus for students is the cost. The parties are free. "Oh yeah," says David Tapper, an 18-year-old student at Franklin High School. "That was the major incentive."

But alcohol isn't always at issue when kids decide what to do after the prom. David says he attended his school's alcohol- and drug-free after-prom party because it's the party his friends chose to attend.

And Franklin High student Noah Egorin, who doesn't drink, says a substance-free party was a natural for him. "I'm not the type who would go over to somebody's house and drink and sit and watch movies anyway," Noah says.

Getting them there

Mostly, though, adults say it's a challenge getting teens to choose alcohol- and drug-free parties sanctioned by both parents and schools.

"It really took every waking minute that first year to convince kids to come," says Amy Deutschendorf, a parent who helps coordinate after-prom parties. Mrs. Deutschendorf has a son who graduated from Owings Mills and a daughter who will enter high school in the fall.

Barbara Rhodes, a party coordinator with a son attending Franklin High School, attributes the success of her parties to a lot of footwork and gentle cajoling. Mrs. Rhodes and a few other parents spoke to students at a general assembly about the parties and made classroom visits.

Offering a carrot

They also asked some students to join the party committee. "I asked them to tell us what they would like to eat, what game prizes they wanted. Before, the kids hadn't felt involved," Mrs. Rhodes says.

To draw these teens and others to the alcohol- and drug-free parties, the adults know they must offer a "carrot."

"I tell them, 'I'm going to invite you to a party, and it's free, and you will be able to win prizes," she says.

The prizes are big carrots. Parents and coordinators have been successful getting local businesses, government agencies and organizations to donate money and substantial prizes for the parties. Local businesses have donated televisions, word processors, CD players, $1,000 savings bonds and other enticements.

Baltimore County Fire Fighters Local 1311 recently donated $2,500 to the after-prom parties. The money was divided among the county's 17 schools, says Mr. Gimbel. (In Baltimore County, his office keeps track of the number of schools, public and private, that are sponsoring parties and the activities.)

The big prizes are given out at the end of the party, and the teens have to be there to claim them. "If they leave the party, they can't come back in," explains Mrs. Deutschendorf. "Obviously, we don't want students going out to drink and then )) coming back in."

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