Members of all parts of the community were represented Wednesday, April 19, at the Alexandria Area High School to listen to research scientist Jeff Linkenbach and learn more about how positive community messaging can decrease youth alcohol and drug use.

The event was part of a campaign that stemmed from a five-year grant awarded to Alexandria by the Minnesota Department of Human Services Alcohol and Drug Abuse division. Over the course of five years, the Alexandria area will be awarded $1 million for work in youth alcohol use prevention.

Linkenbach discussed the idea of positive community norms, a framework used to change attitudes and behaviors. Specifically, he discussed this idea surrounding youth alcohol and drug use.

About 55 people attended, according to Katie Strickler, grant coordinator and health educator at Horizon Public Health.

"I think the people there were very engaged and interested in what Jeff had to say," Strickler said. "I know several people came up and talked to him afterwards and were interested in learning more. They just really got behind his message about taking the positive approach."

Linkenbach is the founder of the idea of positive community norms and believes that positive messaging can create healthy impact on communities.

"We can strategically move the dial around growing positive community norms," he said. "There are things that we're continuing to learn and to apply in order to make communities healthier and safer places for kids to grow up."

Linkenbach stresses that more focus needs to be placed on primary prevention of drug and alcohol use and abuse.

"It's about prevention for people that are not engaged in this risk behavior, to keep them from becoming engaged," he said. "That's the real focus. We're looking at trying to shift some of the risk factors, some of the environment, so that fewer and fewer kids would need to have such treatment."

While in Alexandria, Linkenbach was shown around town and met with high school staff. He also met with community members who make up the Healthy Voices, Healthy Choices coalition, which is a part of the five-year grant.

"He absolutely loved his time here," Strickler said. "I think he was amazed at the school environment our students have the opportunity to attend. He spoke very highly of our school leadership staff and thought they were definitely taking a positive approach in working not only with the school staff, but with the students."

At the end of May, the Healthy Voices, Healthy Choices coalition will receive the data from a student survey that was administered earlier this year. With that data, the coalition will create positive messaging and begin rolling out a media campaign.

"I would say early summer is when those messages will go out into the community more," Strickler said.

Additionally, Strickler says, community members can expect to hear about the Healthy Voices, Healthy Choices coalition while out in the community.

"You might see us at some community events, promoting the positive messages and promoting information about the coalition and what we're doing," she said.