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Monday, April 07, 2014: A community of StaRs navigating change:

Over 120 community members gathered at the Royal Taga Hall of the Saipan World Resort on Saturday for the inaugural Family Awareness Workshop hosted by the Talaabwogh StaR Association.

According to T-StaR group member Maira Arriola, the organization was formed in July of 2012 as a way to give youth on Saipan alternatives to drugs and alcohol. The six-hour summit over the weekend was just one of the many events the group has set up to achieve their objectives. “This is the first time we created this summit. One of our objectives is to build capacity within our youth and their parents,” she said.

The summit was led by youth from the organization’s target villages such as Tanapag, Achugao, As Mahetok, and Lower Base.

Arriola said the conference focused on the prevention of underage drinking, substance abuse, and anti-bullying. “We thought it was important to host something like this because the only way we can bring awareness and build capacity is to educate the people. If they are informed and knowledgeable we will have a safer place to live.”

The conference featured several guest presenters. Project Brabu coordinator Tiara Evangelista and project evaluator James Arriola presented on underage drinking.

Arriola told the participants that underage drinking is “scary “and a “huge problem.” He said that when people use alcohol at a young age, it makes them more prone to using dangerous drugs in the future. He noted that based on surveys conducted on people who were incarcerated for hard drug use, alcohol was the primary cause that led them down that path.

“A vast majority of these drug users say that they all started by drinking alcohol at a young age and the habits developed overtime,” Arriola said.

Evangelista echoed Arriola’s message. She explained the risk factors for underage drinking and expounded on how people can address the core problem—by being educated on it. A highlight of her presentation illuminated the idea of praising children for skills they enjoy and are adept in.

“Whatever it is, academics or sports, praise your child for their work,” she said.

One youth member opened up during the conference. She admitted to drinking under the legal age before and that she stopped because she wanted to “live longer and see what Saipan can become.” She explained that because of her experience, she has learned that “drinking at a young age really does affect people’s lives in a bad way.” She said, “We do go through problems but there are answers to them. Alcohol is not the answer.”

Department of Corrections officer Puis Yaroitemal said the summit “was a great way to reach out to the youth.” Yaroitemal said there is not enough discipline for children and as a result “they go out and encounter negative influences from out there.” He encouraged parents to be stricter with their kids and to also be more involved in their daily activities.

The summit also featured other presenters and activities by NMPASI’s Greg Borja and Tom Thornburg, Department of Public Safety’s Nick Guerrero and Dee Liza Udui, and Division of Youth Services’ Julian Camacho.

The conference had activities and a slideshow by Rufina Olupomor, Jeremiah Omar, Magnolia Kios, and Chanel Igitol.

By Thomas Manglona II