Research data collected by Keep It Real officials demonstrate that the campaign worked – the incidence of binge drinking and alcohol use among teens has dropped over the past four years.
Officials attribute that to the power derived when the anti-underage drinking message is delivered to teens by peers.
The hallmark of the campaign, which was funded by a federal grant that has expired, is the Keep It Real video contest.
For the past nine years, high school students from Central Kentucky and beyond entered 30-second PSA videos with an anti-alcohol message in a competition for cash prizes.
Winners in a variety of categories, which were patterned after the Academy Awards, were chosen by a panel of judges.
In addition, an annual People’s Choice award was determined by Internet voting.
In the past nine years, more than 2,000 students from 67 schools participated in the contest.
During the Internet voting, the Keep It Real web site (www.keep-it-real.us) received nearly one million hits and more than one million votes.
In addition, winners collected more than $17,000 in cash prizes.
“The thing I loved most about the campaign was the diversity of students who participated,” campaign official Donna Wiesenhahn said.
“We had students from traditional high schools, and alternative and technical schools compete.
“We also had a lot of males who got involved, which can be hard to do.”
Fellow campaign official Lynsey Sugarman was struck by the quality of the videos and the thought that went into them.
“Students loved the creativity involved in the contest,” she said.
“They also had to learn about the issue first so this was an effective way to engage students in the discussion.
“Kids told us that they talked to their parents about the issue, so the campaign helped to bring up the topic for discussion.”
For John Lynch, editor of Lexington Family Magazine and a charter member of the group that launched the campaign, the Keep It Real message clarified his position on alcohol as a parent.
KIR emphasized that underage drinking is illegal, unsafe and damages an adolescent’s developing brain.
“That was the clincher for me,” Lynch said. “Once I learned about the research that showed alcohol’s effect on a developing brain, it made it so easy for me to talk to my son about its dangers.
“That made my message clear – don’t do it. That helped me as a parent.”
This month marks a final celebration for Keep It Real with a special day at the Lexington Legends on May 14 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Wiesenhahn not only invites the community to join the celebration, but she also hopes community members “will step up to support the underage drinking campaign.”
While the Keep It Real campaign is idled until more funding comes through, the Youth Coalition for Alcohol Education remains a strong community presence.
Consisting of about two dozen high school students, the Coalition has entered its fourth year of promoting alcohol education.
A popular innovation is the group’s alcopops parent presentation in which Coalition members demonstrate the sly ways alcohol drinks are marketed to young people.
The group also has a prom campaign, reminding teens that “You don’t have to drink to have a party.”
Last summer, the Coalition hosted a Breakfast of Champions, a program for area school coaches that outlined alcohol’s negative impact on fitness.