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VUHS students create anti-alcohol video

VERGENNES — In a 70-second public service announcement shot locally a fictional “Dr. Martin” hosts an under-age drinking party, but — like two real-life parents in the Vergennes area did in 2009 — he regrets his decision when the police show up.
The video, which features eight Vergennes Union High School students, two Bristol policemen and VUHS student assistance professional Tom Fontana, was produced by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes as part of its mission to prevent alcohol abuse by teens and young adults.
In filming, producers used the rear porch of Gaines Insurance near VUHS for exterior shots and a VUHS office to double as party central. Fontana, playing the fictional physician, welcomes the eight teenage students, collects car keys, and tells them to have fun.
After quick shots of the kids partying with actually empty cups, Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs and Officer Brian Fox, members of Addison County’s “Stop Teen Alcohol Risk Team” (START), show up, having caught wind of the underage drinking party.
Following a script written mostly by the teens, “Dr. Martin” protests that the kids are safe, almost 21 and just having fun. But Fox handcuffs Fontana and puts him in the cruiser. A voiceover notes that he could be fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to up to five years in prison. Gibbs tells Fox he will collect the teens and call their parents.
The project was funded by the three-year, $360,000 Strategic Prevention Framework grant give by the federal government to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes. After more than a year of mostly research, club prevention coordinator Jessica Hellyer said the video is the fruition of its efforts to prevent alcohol abuse by teens and young adults.
View the video
The public service announcement (PSA) is part of the effort’s “Parents Who Host Lose the Most” campaign. The club worked on the PSA with the VUHS Assets Group, a student organization that fights substance abuse, and VUHS specialists like Fontana and prevention coordinator Nate Kittredge.
“Even though the grant is through the club, we thought it would be better to reach out to the community and go through the school and kind of get some of the kids involved,” Hellyer said.
The students involved hope the PSA will get the message across that parents face legal risks when host such parties, which Hellyer’s research and students’ personal experience alike show is not an unusual event.
“I do think the end product is going to do some good, hopefully a lot of good,” said senior Corey Sharek.
The group plans to screen the video twice during an upcoming double-feature movie night, at a family spaghetti dinner in January that will also offer “prevention bingo,” and at a VUHS-Mount Abraham basketball game near the concession stands. Links to it will be offered at the VUHS and Addison Independent Web sites.
At Assets Group and Boys and Girls Club events, teens will hand out information and non-drinking pledge cards containing the link to the PSA, and Hellyer is working with local businesses to include a flier with a link to the video as a payroll stuffer. In February, the link will also be on the stickers students will put on 18- and 24-packs of beer as part of the club’s second annual “Sticker Shock” effort, which highlights the legal risks of purchasing alcohol for minors.
When the Vermont Department of Health fires up its statewide “Parents Who Host” campaign this spring to coincide with prom and graduation season, the video will also be featured prominently, Hellyer said.
What the adults involved in the project want to make clear is that the finished product is largely the result of the students’ vision, even if their screen time is limited because parents are the target audience.
“It was a parental message,” Fontana said. “It was their product, and that’s what I like about it.”
Before the Oct. 22 filming — by Westview Digital of Pittsford — Hellyer, Kittredge and Fontana held a series of meetings with the students: Sharek; Amber Dow; Dale Eriksen; Brittany Aunchman; Brendan Duke, who does the final voiceover; Kaitlin Leroux, who has the other major speaking role, greeting Dr. Martin at the door; and Brittany Huestis. Ricky Karzmarczyk, not a member of the group, also volunteered to appear in the PSA.
Fontana said some ideas were rejected (he does not get tasered after resisting arrest, for example), but other details were included. For example, Duke suggested his shirt be untucked by the end.
“How it was created was the kids’ concept,” he said. “It was their script.”
None of the group had any acting experience. Dow admitted it was “scary” at first when the camera was turned on, although she, like the others, soon learned to act natural.
“I didn’t think about it,” Dow said.
In time, Aunchman said they all felt relaxed in the party setting.
“After the first couple times we practiced, it didn’t even seem like the camera was there,” Aunchman said.
Fontana, who has the most screen time, also said he had little relevant background for the part.
“I only have limited experience getting arrested as well,” he said. “Let’s say none, for the record.”
The weather did not cooperate the afternoon of filming, and, in a way, that helped everyone relax during the many takes it requires to produce a finish product — a little more than two hours in all for the 70-second PSA. Fontana and Fox had trouble with their footing on Gaines’ back porch, which didn’t result in any insurance claims but did cause a few smiles.
“It was wet, so every time Tom tried to get off he slipped,” Sharek said.
Gibbs and Fox had pizza with the students before filming, and will work with them in presenting the video. Dow said it was “pretty cool” getting to know the police, and Sharek said they appeared to enjoy the project.
“They seemed like they had a little fun,” he said. “They had to catch Tom every time he slipped.”
Ultimately, as fun as the PSA project was, the students are serious about its mission. In the most recent VUHS Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 50 percent of teen drinkers said older residents had purchased alcohol for them, and 51 percent said their parents thought it was OK for them to drink.
Eriksen said he was happy with the result of the effort, and hopes that parents will listen to the message.
“I thought it was great for the two hours of filming,” Eriksen said. “I think it’s helpful to the people that would be hosting the parties. It might tell them it’s not a good idea.”

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