The federal government will help a Tazewell County coalition teach a new generation of teens about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, especially while driving.
Its aid will come in a $125,000 grant over each of the next five years to the Tazewell Teen Initiative, the broadly based agency formed 12 years ago in response to the deaths of 15 teens and young adults in vehicle crashes over 15 months.
Since then, only six such deaths have taken place in Tazewell, whose coroner recently recognized TTI’s role in that reduction.
The agency, operating through the county Health Department, has announced it was the only one in Illinois this year to receive a second five-year grant among the 719 awarded nationwide under the federal Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program.
“We had to re-apply this year” to remain a DFC program recipient, health department spokeswoman Sara Sparkman said Monday. “It was very competitive.”
The TTI will use the grant funds in its continuing effort “to change the way people think” about alcohol and drug use in general, and driving under their influence in particular, Sparkman said.
One of the most immediate methods to accomplish that, she said, are roadside safety checks conducted by the county and Illinois State Police in which vehicles are stopped by officers and educational brochures are handed out by TTI representatives.
“Research shows (that) the more people see police, the less they drive under the influence,” Sparkman said.
TTI will continue contracting with the state police and Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department to offset part of their overtime costs for manning the checkpoints with the federal grant funds, she said.
Teenage members of the coalition help select checkpoint locations where drivers of their age may be found gathered for affairs that might involve drinking.
The Tazewell group, like other DFC recipients across the nation, is comprised of teens, parents, school officials, and representatives from law enforcement, health care, religious and business agencies. It brings its message to students in their classrooms and at community forums.
While alcohol- and drug-related driving fatalities among teens have declined since TTI was formed, a recent statewide survey indicates the latest generation of young drivers need to be reached.
A TTI forum in August revealed the results of the latest Illinois Youth Survey, conducted every two years among high school students statewide. Among them, 23 percent of Tazewell school seniors acknowledged they had driven after getting high, typically on marijuana. That was nearly twice the level reported in 2014.
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin