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A billboard campaign targeting underage drinking planned for the city’s West Side will carry messages for parents translated into Somali, Arabic, Karen and Spanish.

“There are tremendous language barriers on the West Side. One school can have 15 to 20 languages,” said Jonathan Lindner, health educator, research analyst and coordinator of the West Side Youth Development Coalition. “We focused on five to ensure that all people were receiving and responding to these messages.” The five languages include English, he added.

The billboards will target a diverse West Side population comprised of 40,000 residents, of which 12.6 percent are immigrant, 24 percent African-American and 30 percent Hispanic.

One-third of the immigrant population are not U.S. citizens, Lindner said.

Ten billboards will be placed beginning July 1, Lindner said. The first is planned for 533 Amherst St., near the Wegmans store.

The coalition last year received a $625,000 grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, secured by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, to increase substance abuse education and prevention among youth. The billboards targeting underage drinking represent the first phase of the community-based project. They will be placed in areas having the zip codes: 14222, 14213, 14207 and 14201.

“The billboards will help to reinforce positive parenting behavior,” said William F. Wieczorek, director of the Center for Health & Social Research at SUNY Buffalo State and coalition co-chairman. “If you reinforce to parents the importance of having basic rules – like knowing where their kids are or stressing the dangers of alcohol and drugs – it does have an effect on whether kids start using. It’s never too late to start enforcing these basic parenting rules. Adolescents who already have started these kinds of behaviors can benefit from positive parenting. The behavior will occur less frequently as well as at lower intensities.”

The messages were developed from collaborative efforts between coalition members, Buffalo State students, parents from School 18 on Hampshire Street and West Side Community Services.

Five messages are planned for the billboards.

• Be a Parent: You’re the No. 1 influence on kids.

• Real parents: Know where their kids are and what they are doing.

• Parenting is everybody’s responsibility! Be a responsible parent.

• Every kid needs: rules and limits.

• Real parents: Enforce rules for their kids.

The next phase in the billboard campaign will speak to prescription drug abuse. It is expected to launch later this year.

The underage drinking initiative will also turn its focus to alcohol retailers, according to Michele Graves, coalition member.

Project Sticker Shock, expected to begin within weeks, will employ Buffalo Youth Police Academy Explorers working in partnership with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

The seventh- and eighth-graders will tag beer products with stickers that read: “Selling to minors is not a minor offense.”

“Explorers will visit 40 establishments under the direction of Buffalo Police Officer Genevieve Rak to affix the stickers on beer,” Graves said. “Hopefully, people will think twice about buying beer for minors. The Sheriff’s Office has been doing this for years.”

Coalition members also are exploring addressing underage drinking – particularly by high school students – at student house parties in the neighborhoods surrounding Buffalo State.

Community police officers routinely canvass the neighborhoods, said Officer Margit Jones.

“Once there’s an issue, like police break up a party of 200 people and issue summonses – that’s when I come in,” Jones said. “I go back, hunt down the landlord – a lot of times the landlord is an absentee landlord – and bring him in to answer. A lot of times those tenants are evicted. I usually notify Buffalo State.”

The West Side Youth Development Coalition was formed in 2009 in response to community requests for assistance in controlling gang activity and violence on the West Side.

In 2011, the coalition employed the same billboard strategy in Project Safe Neighborhoods, its campaign against gang violence and use of guns.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com