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Jan. 23, 2012
TOPEKA On Homecoming night 2006, Washburn Rural High School senior Joe White and his friends were drinking.
They got in a car and decided to film a stunt based on “Jackass: The Movie,” which they’d just watched the night before. White, who had plans to study film at the University of Kansas, jumped from the car at 35 mph.
He survived, but much of the right side of his body is paralyzed and because of head injuries he now has severe learning and speech impairments.
“It is very, very hard learning numbers, words, language. It is very, very hard,” White said in one of the YouTube videos he has produced about the experience.
He spends much of his time traveling to schools — 45 so far, across the state — to tell his cautionary story as part of county-based programs aimed at preventing underage drinking.
After each talk, students post dozens — if not hundreds — of comments on his Facebook page, Joe White: My Story, and White responds to most every one.
I am really thankful that you lived because if you didn't, we wouldn't have had a chance to see you and be touched by your story. I think it really had an effect on our school. I was sitting in the front row; my friend and I started crying because it touched our hearts so much. Thank you and God bless you, Joe White. ~Kaylin Beswick from Abilene Middle School.
White’s speech to about 350 students at Abilene Middle School was part of underage drinking prevention programs in Dickinson County funded by a three-year, $560,000 federal grant, which ends in June.
Dickinson is one of 14 Kansas counties to benefit from the $10 million program, administered by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. County prevention coordinator Katie Allen said it also has helped pay for increased law enforcement, coordination with local mentoring programs and community education campaigns aimed at adults.
A program called Project Sticker Shock is among other more successful programs, she said. Two or three times a year, dozens of volunteers put some 2,000 stickers on cases of beer that warn buyers of the $1,000 fine for providing alcohol to minors.
In and around Abilene, said Allen, "a lot of people just didn't really think about what the laws were regarding alcohol use. There was a big component of people who thought it was OK if kids drink in their own home, because they were going to do it anyway.”
She said another program called Parents Who Host Lose the Most has helped change that perception.
"Our focus has been on the community and adults, because they were inadvertently allowing (underage drinking) by not taking a stand against it," Allen said.
When grant-funded programs began in 2008, the rate of Dickinson County students who reported drinking in the last 30 days was 33 percent. Today it is 26 percent, Allen said.
Urban counties also have reported improvements thanks to the grants. In Shawnee County, which received a $1.5 million three-year grant, Kelly Hall of the Safe Streets Coalition said most indicators of underage drinking were down, including:
• A 2.5 percent reduction in 30-day use, down from 27 percent,
• A 2.5 percent reduction in binge drinking, down from 14.5 percent, and
• A 1.8 percent reduction in youth reporting they won’t get caught if drinking, down from 67.7 percent.
Beyond the grant
Allen worries about the future of underage drinking prevention programs in Dickinson County without the grant money.
She said her Quality of Life Coalition has approached county commissioners about funding once the SRS grant expires. But that remains uncertain. Absent government funding of some sort, she said, encouraging the county's adults to prevent underage drinking would be most challenging.
"Alcohol is a personal choice. Telling people it's right or wrong isn't very popular. It's not easy to be that person to come out and take a stand," Allen said.
→Counties face loss of underage drinking prevention funds
Video produced by Joe White and Topeka Capital-Journal photographer Ann Williamson for a story published by the newspaper on the fifth anniversary of White's accident.