As the Stoughton Wellness Coalition continues its work to help keep area youth away from drugs and alcohol, project coordinator Teressa Pellett sees progress being made.

Pellett updated school board members Monday night on the coalition’s work in the first year of a five-year $625,000 federal Drug-Free Communities implementation grant focusing on underage drinking, prescription and other drug misuse in the 12-17 age group. She said this year, most of the work has been providing training to community members, using information from the annual Dane County Youth Survey, which polls young people about things like tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

“We are one of the top states in the county for our drinking and alcohol culture,” she said.

While most of the group’s initial efforts through the grant have focused on outreach, they’ve also been active in working with the Stoughton Police Department on preventing retailers from selling alcohol to minors. Pellett said the group finished its third round of business checks last week, with great improvement in results compared to two previous rounds that started in October.

“The first one, 21 retailers were checked and seven sold to minors, and the second one checked 24 retailers and 11 sold to minors,” she said. “This time, 24 were checked and only three sold to minors.”

Pellett said of the three businesses that illegally sold alcohol to minors last week, two had electronic ID scanners but didn’t use them.

“We still have some work to do in educating our retailers about best practices,” she said. “There’s a lot of follow up happening with folks, but with our improvement this week, I’m really excited. Our goal is 100 percent, but we’re a lot closer than we were in October.”

Pellett said Stoughton police will send letters to the offending businesses that includes information on the law, best practices and how to train staff, as well as a notice that another check will be coming within the month. The coalition also gave away locks for “beer refrigerators” families might have in their garages, and held over 120 educational events throughout the community.

“We’re planning on continuing this work and being as protective as we can,” she said.

Vaping is something that has also caught the coalition’s attention in the past year with its rapid rise in popularity among young people.

“We’re pretty shocked by how quickly this took off,” she said. “People don’t really know the dangers – kids really believe its safe.”

Board members asked a few questions but mostly listened to the half-hour presentation.

“We appreciate the work you do,” said board president Frank Sullivan.

The Stoughton Wellness Coalition received a five-year, $125,00-per-year Drug Free Communities implementation grant in October 2017 from the Department of Health and Human Services, with Stoughton Hospital acting as the fiscal agent. The funds are dedicated to primary prevention of youth substance misuse, and the focus areas are underage drinking, prescription drugs and now vaping, often called Juuling, after a popular brand name.

SWC began work in 2015 after receiving a two-year planning grant from the same agency, which allowed the coalition to reorganize, conduct a community assessment, get additional training and apply for the implementation grant, said Pellett. Stoughton is the only community in Dane County to be funded.

For information on the coalition, contact Pellett at 877-5729 or tpellett@swc@gmail.com or visit stoughton wellness.org.

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Newspaper Group reporter

Scott De Laruelle at scott.

delaruelle@wcinet.com.