Not Those Minors: Campbell County Prevention Council Launches Award-Winning Campaign
You might say that Gillette coal miners Greg Zahn and Elliot Basner were born for the role. Given their occupation, the pair were aptly recruited to play the two coal miners in the Campbell County Prevention Council’s (CCPC) campaign aimed at underage drinking. In the locally filmed commercial, the pair stand in front of the former Beverage Broker on Lakeway Road with coal-smudged cheeks and headlamps beaming, waiting for a woman in a ball cap to head out of the store with the six-pack she’s purchased for them. Before she’s able to hand the beer over, the group is accosted by an overzealous rookie cop who descends with a flashlight as he tries to bust the woman for purchasing beer for “minors,” which his older, patient partner points out is the wrong kind.
Laugh or groan, the CCPC’s “Not Those Minors” campaign has been an effective form of messaging about the legal consequences of providing alcohol to minors, according to Gillette College Police Lt. and Drug-Free Communities Project Director Chad Trebby, who came up with the basic premise for the commercial campaign. The idea popped into his brain about eight years ago after randomly making the association between the two groups while out on patrol. He never imagined that the idea would ever turn into a tangible product and has been delighted to watch it develop into an actual three-commercial campaign.
“I’m really proud of it,” he said.
Likewise, he’s received a lot of positive feedback from residents, who appreciate the humor and local cultural tie-in to Gillette’s coal industry, as well as seeing familiar faces. Even the negative comments are satisfying to Trebby, because it means the commercials are doing their job.
“They were meant to be sticky,” he said. “We wanted to make people stop and think.”
He was out of town the day it was filmed, so his fellow Gillette College officer Jake Fitzner stepped in to help. Former owner of Beverage Broker Bob Downey allowed them use of his building for filming, while the Gillette Police Department loaned them a patrol vehicles for the shoot. It was in many ways a community project, Trebby added, noting that many local faces had a hand in the project.
The idea was to localize an issue and tackle cultural perceptions about the seriousness of underage drinking, according to former Campbell County Prevention Council Grant Coordinator Stephanie McGee, who spearheaded the three-commercial prevention campaign and helped procure grant funding.
“We wanted it to be very local,” she said, “and to make it a community project. A lot of hands went into making this happen.”
The choice to use Cody-based Cactus Productions for filming was determined based on the group’s expansive experience and knowledge producing state and national prevention campaigns on a variety of topics from drinking to prescription drugs, McGee added. Using Trebby’s idea, Cactus drafted the scripts, recruited the actors, and managed the production of the commercials. Initially, they had hoped to film them all locally, but due to the logistics of lining up venues and actors, two of the three were shot in Cody.
Hitting the Big Screen
Little did anyone involved in the project expect it to play outside of the county or to be nationally recognized for two awards. In May, the commercials were awarded an annual Bronze Telly, which honors the top advertising and production companies, networks, and content studios across the country in a range of different categories from not-for-profit media campaigns to industry and commercial videos. This year, more than 12,000 entries from across 50 states and five continents were entered, representing work from the most respected advertising agencies, television stations, production companies, and publishers from around the world.
“Not Those Minors” was also nominated for a Heartland Regional Emmy in the public service announcement category, which recognizes the best in local and state-wide television. That it did not win in the end in no way mitigates the pride in the project for Cactus Production Owner Preston Randolph, who focused instead on the content and educating communities.
“Underage drinking is a serious concern in Wyoming and across the country,” Randolph wrote in an email from Montana, where he was currently shooting on location. “Anytime work like this is nominated for a prestigious award, it builds further awareness to a campaign’s message. We are excited about that.”
Power of Prevention
As a police officer for the past two decades, Trebby has seen first-hand the ravaging effects alcohol and substance abuse has had on individuals, families, and the community. At the same time, he’s seen the limited impact that he and other officers have when it comes to combatting the long-term problem.
“We aren’t going to enforce our way out of this,” he said. “People just continue cycling through the programs, and the only way to drive down use is to change the cultural perception.”
Trebby pointed to the change in cultural attitudes toward drunk driving. A couple decades ago, he noted, it wasn’t a big deal to jump in your car after a night of drinking because everyone else was doing it and a person needed to get home. In recent years, however, drunk driving has become taboo and culturally frowned upon. Getting a DUI today, he said, is a much bigger deal than it was 50 years ago when cops would drive you home if they pulled you over for driving inebriated.
Changing public perception and chipping away at a culture of tolerance is the way forward, he believes.
“The trouble with many prevention campaigns, however,” Trebby said, “is that they tend to be stern and preachy.”
He and other CCPC members thought prevention could be funny, too, especially when it comes to self-deprecating humor in his own role as a police officer.
“It’s important to be able to laugh and make fun of ourselves to make us seem more human,” he said.
Underage Drinking on a Downward Trend
In recent years, state-wide prevention seems to be working when it comes to changing perceptions surrounding underage drinking. According to data in the Wyoming Department of Heath Alcohol Prevention Plan for 2018-2020, over the last couple of decades, the number of past-month alcohol use among Wyoming teenagers between the ages of 12 and 20 has fallen by nearly 20 percent.
Locally, however, those numbers are slightly higher when it comes to older students.
A Campbell County School District spring 2018 Primary Needs Assessment (PNA) surveyed approximately 1,600 students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades on their perception of alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drug usage. The PNA was broken down into four core measures that assessed the usage of any substances in the last 30-days, as well as student perceptions regarding the risk of alcohol use, peer and parental disapproval.
Compared to 2016 results of the same assessment, past 30-day use rose 3 points among high school seniors up from 39 in 2016 to 42 percent last year. Likewise, 30-day marijuana use among seniors rose one point from 18 to 19 percent. That said, 30-day use was down for the three other age groups while the perception of risk and peer disapproval remained relatively unchanged over the same time frame.
One trouble spot in the PNA assessment for CCSD Director of Student Support Services Kip Farnum was the students’ response to their perception of parental disapproval, which showed a measurable downward trend across all age groups. For example, when it comes to alcohol, 94 percent of sixth graders reported being less concerned of parental disapproval versus 98 percent in 2016. The biggest change was seen in seniors with that number dropping from 88 percent in 2016 down to 73 percent in 2018.
Trying to educate parents on the dangers of alcohol and other substances is the mission, according to Farnum, though still somewhat of a challenge.
“Getting parents into the school these days is hard,” he said, “particularly as the students get older.”
In past months, the district has sent letters and post cards to parents red flagging the dangers of underage drinking and other illegal substance abuse, particularly vaping and marijuana. In his mind, these are the substances – not alcohol – that currently pose the greatest danger. Alcohol infractions on campus have dropped dramatically in recent years, Farnum said, as students increasingly are turning to marijuana and THC derivatives.
“This is a tough one,” he said. “Alcohol is still a problem, but there are now so many other variables thrown in. The availability of marijuana is gigantic.”
This is where parents can really step in and be part of the solution, Trebby said, based on their own perceptions, actions, and educating themselves on the issue.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Trebby said, “when it comes to parental tolerance and friends and family members over 21 providing alcohol to minors.”
Legally speaking, state statute does allow parents to let their kids drink at home under supervision for religious or cultural reasons. However, if that same minor leaves the house or party, the parents are culpable for a minor in possession (MIP) violation.
“There’s no provision in the minor in possession of alcohol [statute] that lets it be okay if their parents provide it to them,” Trebby said.
Legalities aside, letting children drink sends the wrong message Trebby added, and this is part of the perception that he and others would like to see change.
Miners in Real Life
Despite their occupations, coal miners Greg Zahn and Elliot Basner had a personal stake in being involved in the project.
Zahn, who was hand selected by his wife, a youth advocate at the Y.E.S. House, is also a father and was happy to lend his face to the campaign. Humor aside, he thinks the commercials are a great way to help spread awareness about the dangers of teenage drinking and the role parents play in setting the standard.
Gillette can be a little lax when it comes to tolerating underage drinking, he thinks. He’s been at gatherings where kids were allowed to take sips of beer although he doesn’t condone the practice.
“I personally don’t believe that minors should be in a position to drink alcohol until they’re old enough,” Zahn said. “There’s a time and place and that happens when they turn 21, and then it’s their decision to make.”
He disagrees with the position of accepting “all teenagers are going to drink” as an absolute. Putting their keys in a fishbowl and letting them drink at your home in his mind is not doing them any favors because it blurs the lines between wrong and right.
“It opens up a wormhole,” he said, “and I don’t think that’s a good way to go.”
Basner agrees. Along with his full-time job at the coal mine, he also works part time as a youth advocate at the Y.E.S. House, and is the father of a 17-year-old son, so he’s put a lot of thought into the pros and cons. For starters, he, too, doesn’t buy the inevitability that all teenagers are going to drink, nor does he agree as a parent with letting teenagers indulge in bad behavior or break the law.
Years ago, he remembers being bothered by stories he’d read in the newspaper about parties getting busted up and parents being cited for letting their kids and friends drink at home.
“That just doesn’t sit well with me,” Basner said. “As parents, we all have a responsibility to watch over our kids, and we need to step up and help each other.”
Many parents like him are shift workers in the energy industry with 12- to 14-hour workdays that inevitably leave a large window for the amount of time some kids are spending at home alone. As such, he relies and other parents rely on each other to watch over all the kids, making sure they’re safe and not breaking laws or putting their health in danger.
If parents condone illegal behavior, he said, that sends a message to their kids. As does making light of wild stories about wild nights for the sake of a good story.
“Kids seem to think it’s okay when they see the examples or hear stories from parents and grandparents,” he said. “We need to teach them that responsible drinking can be enjoyed when they’re old enough to do it legally.”
Like Zhan, Basner agrees with the legal drinking age and bats down arguments he hears from teens about lowering the age to 18, when they argue with him that they’re old enough to fight for their country so they should be able to drink and that it’s legal in other countries.
For him, it’s also the health risk that bothers him. He points to medical research about the damage alcohol has on a teen’s developing frontal lobe, which directly impacts cognitive skills.
“Kids are pretty sneaky,” Basner said, and having unfettered access to social media and apps makes it easier for modern teenagers to navigate under the parental peripheral. “They can communicate with kids all over the world and share little tips and tricks for getting away with things. It’s just part of the culture of being a kid. They try to get away with stuff. It’s an age-old problem, and it’s up to parents to make sure they are toeing the line.”
Both guys were happy to be involved in the commercials, which they think are effective because they catch people off guard and make people stop and reflect. They were caught off guard when they first saw themselves on the television screen and were a bit weirded out upon being recognized around town as the coal miners. Zhan appreciates the secondary indirect messages like the watchful role the police play in the scenes as onlookers.
“That shows that the police are watching,” Zhan said. “That cops aren’t the bad guy and that they care and are helping us make the right decisions.”
As for Basner, he likes the clever role reversal of youth minors in the commercials, because it also sends a subliminal message that ultimately, it’s the coal miners, or parents, who are responsible for raising their kids to make good choices and be safe.
“People are remembering them [the commercials],” he said, “and that’s the important part.”
Setting the Example
These days, Kim Messenheimer is often recognized around town as the beer lady. They’re referring to the lady in the commercial walking out of the liquor store with a six-pack in hand that she’s just purchased for the coal miners. She rarely drinks or buys alcohol in real life, so she finds the association ironic.
This was her acting debut, and she joked that she was robbed of her only line. Originally, she was supposed to say “What?” when interrogated by the policemen, which she’d admitted she’d practiced for hours to get just right. In the end, the director cut the line and instead told her to just look confused.
“They stole my line,” she said with a laugh.
And though the commercials are meant to be light-hearted and fun, the underlying message is anything but for Messenheimer and others, who take to heart the gravity of the seriousness of the problem, and if anything, hope the commercials will make people stop and think. When asked about the feedback she’s been hearing from others around town, Messenheimer realized with a pause that she hadn’t thought to ask people what they thought about the actual message. Now, she said, she’s going to start asking.
As a member of the Campbell Campbell County Prevention Council, Messenheimer was recruited to be in commercial by friend and fellow council member Stephanie McGee, and is proud to be one of the faces associated with the campaign as well as an outspoken critic of the sometimes lax attitudes locally surrounding underage drinking.
“It’s a problem in this community,” she said, “and I’m happy that people will see my face and associate me with someone who would like to do something about it.”
As a mother, she didn’t keep alcohol in the house when her kids were young and admits it bothers her when she sees other parents – including her friends – letting their teenage kids drink at home.
“The argument is that all teenagers drink, so some parents prefer to have them do it at home,” she said. “But why do we assume that teenagers are going to drink?”
Messenheimer doesn’t buy that assumption, nor does she make allowances for teens who try to push the line, even when it’s her own son.
She laughed when she recounted the time her son tried to sneak into a local bar when he was still under 21. Randomly, it had been one of the rare occasions that she’d been out with friends and had looked up to see her son walking through the front door toward the bouncer, at which point she flew across the room to let the bouncer know that the kid was underage.
“I know,” she’d informed him. “I’m his mother.”
Without a word, her son had walked out of the bar that night and never mentioned it to his mother again. For all she knows, he went around the block to another place, but at least she did her part in stopping him that time.
For her, it wasn’t about just breaking the law. Instead it was about protecting her son from the potential long-term ramifications of alcohol, both physically and mentally. A lot of alcohol-related behavior is learned, Messenheimer noted, and that’s why she’s eager to start a conversation and help educate adults and parents about the associated health risks to teens, as well as the danger of condoning bad habits that may only get worse over time.
Y.E.S. House Director Sheri England is a big fan of the commercials and smiles every time she sees one pop up on the television screen at the gym. She loves seeing local faces and the play on coal miners, particularly the one in the dance scene spinning around the floor by himself at the house party. She also appreciates the distinctly local tie-in to the community and culture, as well as the connection between the miners and minors, which in her mind, brings the underlying message full circle in a way that’s fun and not exclusive or preachy.
“It’s very clever,” she said, “and when you can laugh, those are the commercials people remember.”
Drugs and alcohol, however, are not funny. As one who has dedicated the past 30 years to helping teens and their families, England’s seen what addiction does to kids, families, and communities, which is why, though not directly involved, she’s been a cheerleader for this campaign from the get go.
“We know a lot more about the long-lasting ramifications of drugs and alcohol on a teen’s developing brain that can have a lasting negative impact for life,” she said. This is why she’s particularly happy to see a prevention campaign geared at adults regarding the ramifications of providing alcohol to teens or giving them a ‘safe’ place to drink.
“Our job as parents is to lift that child up,” she said. “I want kids and families to be healthy for their sake and for the community.”
She doesn’t judge or disparage those parents who think they are protecting their kids by letting them drink at home, because as she points out, we’re all humans limited by our experience and knowledge that is dictated by our respective social circles and culture.
“Some people simply don’t know,” she said. “Most of the time, we don’t think to stop and question it.”
What’s different now, in her mind, is the vast amount of medical research on the adverse impact alcohol has on a teen’s developing frontal lobe including irreversible brain changes that can impact decision making, personality, memory, and learning. Impairments that could effect the child for life. She also points to research by the Centers for Disease Control that links various childhood traumas to long-term chronic health problems.
Unlike long ago when her parents had rewarded her with a cold beer after a long, hot day harvesting wheat on the family farm, she said we now know much more than we did back then and have unlimited access to information and research.
“Some parents might not question the health risks because they didn’t know about the medical research,” she said. “But it’s there.”
This is where she thinks adults and parents can step up and lead by example, reaching out to other parents to share information.
“A lot of parents don’t believe or realize how much their kids value their opinions and model their behaviors,” she said. “Kids want role models, especially teenagers.”
England notes the irony of a teenager’s natural propensity for freedom and testing boundaries, and even though the teen might act like they don’t need their parents, they do.
“You don’t want kids making decisions that might alter their lives permanently because they aren’t going to make the best choices,” she said. This is where the community and adults can make decisions that do help.