Newsmaker Q&A: Kasprzak advocates for Team Fort Collins

Less than two months ago, Ashley Kasprzak was hired as executive director of Team Fort Collins, a nonprofit drug and alcohol prevention service. Although new to the position with TFC, Kasprzak has more than 20 years of professional experience with nonprofit organizations, and a dedication to partnering with the business community. She shared her vision for TFC with the Business Report.

Question: How has alcohol and drug-abuse prevention changed in the last 10 years?

Answer: It’s changed from being reliant upon anecdotal information and scare tactics to more evidence-based approaches, to help youth and adults make healthy choices.

When I was growing up, it was common to have fear-related activities that talked about alcohol and drugs. For instance, parking a car that had been wrecked by a drunk driver in front of the school for a week. That can have a place, but if it’s the only type of education then it doesn’t actually stay with students very long. They need something that addresses biology and brain development. Our staff has looked at best practices nationwide and selected materials and curriculum that has been proven to have affect with use.

We know that it’s important to address alcohol and drug prevention beginning in elementary school and Team Fort Collins is working with the Poudre School District to make that happen.

It’s important to be age-appropriate, but students in fifth grade are being exposed to marijuana. Some students who are testing the waters may think, “I will taste alcohol from my parents cabinet,” at this age. So it’s important by fifth grade that they understand that yes, at that point in their lives, their brains are developed in terms of size, but not in terms of neural pathways. It’s really important to realize that that happens all through the adolescent years, up to age 25. There is still a lot developing. If you compromise that with the introduction of alcohol and drugs, it can negatively impact brain development.

Q: Team Fort Collins claims it uses the “social norms” approach. Can you explain this approach and why your organization has chosen to utilize it?

A: The social norms approach shines a light on what students are doing well, the healthy behaviors that students are choosing. Due to the high need of peer approval and attention, students will brag about their abuse of alcohol and risky behavior, but the percentages in real life are not as high as they are perceived. We focus on bringing out the facts, whether it’s about student behaviors or your body, and how it will be impacted by alcohol and drugs.

We do a lot of assessment to get a good understanding of what students are engaging in here. We work in conjunction with the Poudre School District as they look at healthy behaviors and survey their students. In some communities we’ve run the ACTUALITY campaign, a social enterprise program for Team Fort Collins, an intensive social norming effort. We’re leading one in Iowa right now.

With that campaign, students and teachers are involved in creating the messaging, and they decided to focus on basic values before they start to talk about alcohol and drug use. They began by raising level of understanding about respect. We knew that prevention messages wouldn’t go very far because there was an earlier step that needed to be taken care of about respecting and valuing each other and making healthy life choices.

Q: What’s next for Team Fort Collins?

A: We’re continuing education programs in the schools and education for parents. We also expect to continue social norm and social marketing campaigns. We’re about to ramp one up with Front Range Community College. It’s in the early stages of assessment. It will launch in January and go through the fall of 2013.

We’re a dynamic nonprofit. We do both direct programming as well as advocacy and policy making. We’re currently raising awareness about children and youth and teens’ access to marijuana. And we are tangentially involved in the campaign to vote no on Question 301, the medical marijuana dispensary legislation and Amendment 64, which is on marijuana legalization. Depending on the outcome of those, that will impact our programming.

Q:How can the business community help?

A: In several ways. The business community is interested in fostering healthy workplaces. We have wonderful workplace programs through our social marketing campaigns. In terms of supporting the work we do, we have many who are sponsoring events and several who serve on the board of directors.

We have a Responsible Alcohol Retailers program that touches the hospitality and entertainment industries. To help them have a successful business and a safe business, we provide training to staff through a certified alcohol serving program. It’s important for servers to be aware of safe serving, not over-serving, checking identifications and raising awareness about safe ways home. Right now Team Fort Collins, including CSU and the Fort Collins Police Department and all of the Responsible Alcohol Retailers, we have 50 members promoting safe rides home and the Green & Gold bus routes, the city’s late-night city bus service.

Some of the Responsible Alcohol Retailers are going to include the option of an add-on when guests are paying their bill. For example, when Johnny has a bunch of beer at a restaurant, the server realizes he really needs a safe ride home. The server asks if he’d like some bus tickets. The customer can pay right there with their bill rather than have to dig in their pockets at the bus stop or worry about the bus not taking their debit card, even before nearing their car.

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