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Southwest Norfolk youth study urges:Replace ‘risky’ bush parties with sports and recreation

SIMCOE, ON, MARCH 4, 2010 – Community members in southwest Norfolk County are calling for more youth-oriented sports and recreation activities as an alternative to “risky” bush parties where drugs and alcohol are being misused.

In a community-based study released today, both youths and adults cited “risky behaviour” at bush parties as a major issue in their corner of the county. The study said many youths attending bush parties, also known as “bunches,” would rather participate in sports and recreational activities but most facilities are located too far away.

The All Youth Matter Committee and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit spearheaded the study, entitled, “Adolescent Health in Rural Southwest Norfolk County: A Social Phenomenon.”

The All Youth Matter Committee consists of community parents, youths, churches, schools, government, public health and other service agencies. The study surveyed more than 200 low-German-speaking and English-speaking youths in Grades 7, 8 and 9 from southwest Norfolk.

Students were asked questions about what they liked and did not like about where they live, their school, what they did during a typical week, what they would like to do during a typical week, safety, bush parties/bunches, what is stopping them from doing what they want to do, and to identify what they would like to have in their community.

“Having a skate park and more sports and recreation activities may provide students an opportunity to engage in healthy behaviours,” said Scott Mabee, Youth Director, Houghton Brethren in Christ Church. “At these bush parties/bunches, youths engage in risk-taking behaviours, including drinking and illicit drug use, drinking and driving and inebriated youth walking home at night.”

Literally hundreds of youths attend bush parties/bunches that are located in a farmer’s field, bush lot, or a youth’s home and yard when parents are away.”

“The community is concerned for youths’ safety because they are engaging in risk-taking behaviours at these parties,” echoed Gloria Thomas, Teacher, Turning Point. “We are afraid that something serious could happen and we do not want to lose sight of it.” Turning Point is an alternative learning program for Low-German -speaking Mennonites.

The community as a whole finds bush parties intimidating.

“People are concerned for their safety and fear reprisal if they report these large gatherings that often occur on private property,” said the Health Unit’s Melanie Laundry, Family Health Program Coordinator.

Health Unit epidemiologist Deanna Morris, who facilitated the study, said speaking directly with the students was key to better understanding their needs.

Youth reported they wanted more sports and recreational activities, namely a skate park and paintball. Students also reported they would like to have more art programs and gymnastics, karate or other groups and lessons outside of class. They said there is not enough physical activity at school.

Students also cited safety as an issue, with many youths knowing someone who had been hurt by a tractor or all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

Parent Sue Ashton summed up the task at hand by noting “as a community we need to explore the options of providing more facilities, sports and recreational activities among low-German-speaking youth and English-speaking youth at and outside of school. Also we need to focus on harm reduction strategies, particularly focusing on ATV and tractor safety.”

Students reported they cannot participate in sports and recreation activities because they are not available where they live, there is no public transportation and they cannot afford to participate in organized sports.

“If students had better access to sports and recreation activities, then students may be less likely to engage in high-risk problem behaviours like drinking and illicit drug use,” said Paul Penelton, Pastor, Houghton Brethren in Christ Church.

Discussion of a youth drop-in centre revealed students were passionate about having a centre that was easily accessible and provided a variety of sports and recreational activities, mainly a skate park.

“Students also wanted to be in charge of the youth centre and have their voices heard,” Morris pointed out.

“The next step for the All Youth Matter Committee is to address the recommendations outlined in the report and recruit new people to our committee,” said Health Unit Public Health Nurse Marilyn Antkiw.

The full report can be found on the Health Unit’s website at www.hnhu.org.

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Media contact:
Deanna Morris
[email protected]
Ext. 3215 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623