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Release: Immediate

Stepping Up Project plans April 27 town meeting to get public input on curbing binge drinking

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Stepping Up Project, a community/campus coalition to curb binge drinking and its second-hand effects, is planning a town meeting to share information about its activities and solicit community input and support for those activities. The public is invited to attend the meeting Monday, April 27 from 7 to 9 p.m. at West High School.

The first hour of the town meeting will be in the West High LittleTheater and will feature a short update on the Stepping Up Project, a preliminary report on a community survey of perceptions and attitudes towards binge drinking as well as support for specific policies to combat the problem and an extended period of time for members of the public to ask questions or provide their own comments about the issue.

During the second hour, participants will be invited to attend one of four separate discussion groups to explore issues in greater depth. The general topics for discussion will be enforcement of alcohol-related laws, accessibility and availability of alcohol, social alternatives to alcohol-related events, and outreach - what should be done to keep the community informed of the issues.

"We invite everyone from the local community to attend the town meeting and share their thoughts with us," said Carolyn Cavitt, an Iowa City stockbroker who chairs the Stepping Up Project. "Our goal is to bring people up to date on what the Stepping Up Project is all about and to review the results of the community survey so we all have a better idea of where we stand on the issue."

"We have a 40-member steering committee that has been looking at this issue for the past year, so we have some ideas about how to approach it, but we are also eager to hear from others in the community," Cavitt said. "It's just common sense that we will need community support for the policy initiatives we propose."

The results of the community survey will be presented by Arthur Miller, University of Iowa professor of political science and director of the Iowa Social Science Institute, which has recently completed a random telephone survey of 800 residents of Iowa City, Coralville and Johnson County.

Julie Phye, who is coordinator of the Stepping Up Project, explained the purpose of the survey: "We believe it's important to know the answers to some basic questions, such as 'Do members of the Iowa City and Coralville communities believe there is a problem with binge drinking among college students? Have they directly or indirectly experienced the second-hand effects of binge drinking? If so, what kinds of initiatives do they support in an effort to reduce those problems?'"

"Because the answers to the questions get right to the heart of what the Stepping Up Project hopes to accomplish, the need for an accurate picture of community perceptions and attitudes was recognized early in the project," Phye said.

The open forum section of the meeting will feature panelists who can respond to questions and comments from the audience. Members of the panel will be Mary Sue Coleman, UI President; Dale Helling, assistant city manager for Iowa City; Allison Miller, former UI Student Government president; Art Schut, director of MECCA (the Mid Eastern Council on Chemical Abuse), Jim Clayton of the Iowa City Downtown Association, and Jodie Theobald of the Iowa City Schools Districtwide Parents' Organization.

High school students will serve as greeters for the event and will offer participants an opportunity to sign up to receive the Stepping Up Project community newsletter and to review and sign pledge cards that explain the coalition's mission and goals.

In addition, West High's 1440 Leadership Group will be collecting food items to donate to the Iowa City Crisis Center. Items can be dropped off in a box at the entrance to the meeting.

The Stepping Up Project is one of six community/university coalitions participating in a national program, "A Matter of Degree: Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students." The initiative is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J., the nation's largest health care philanthropy and administered by the American Medical Association. Other participating coalitions are associated with the University of Vermont, the University of Colorado-Boulder; the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Delaware and Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.

Each community/university coalition was awarded a five-year, $700,000 grant to plan a comprehensive effort to reduce binge drinking and the "second-hand" effects of binge drinking - the problems that binge drinkers cause for others.