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Hans Koepsell, Deseret News
Brenda Rascon high-fives Heber City Patrol Sgt. Salvador Segura at the Underage Drinking Prevention Initiative in Heber City on Tuesday, July 12, 2016.

HEBER CITY — Teens who begin drinking before the age of 15 have a 45 percent chance of becoming alcohol-dependent, according to Parents Empowered.

That compares to a 7 percent chance of alcohol dependence if they wait to drink until age 21.

To combat underage drinking, Latinos in Action — a Utah-based student leadership and college preparation program — joined with Parents Empowered for the first time Tuesday to launch an initiative informing parents of the harmful effects of underage drinking.

Around 50 people from Heber City law enforcement, Latinos in Action of Heber City, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Parents Empowered and the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health gathered at the Heber City Police Department Tuesday to celebrate the launch of the new initiative.

“Underage drinking not only robs our kids of bright, healthy futures, but it is detrimental to the development of the teen brain,” Juan Morales of Heber City Latino Outreach said in a statement. “As a Latino community, we want to educate our parents on the harms of underage drinking by sharing what they can to ensure kids stay alcohol-free.”

The initiative collaborates with local Latino businesses, where large, unique graphics are being placed to discourage underage drinking. The messages include posters, murals, plastic grocery bags, table wraps, coasters, hairdressing capes and aprons, all branded in bright orange and yellow with teen alcohol prevention messages on them.

The displays will be featured inside restaurants, dance studios, grocery stores, hair salons and gymnasiums that are all owned and operated by local Latinos.

Heber City police officers, accompanied by teens from Latinos in Action, traveled throughout the city Tuesday to place the displays and other materials at various Latino businesses.

Isabel Madrigal, assistant manager at Rancho Markets in Heber City, welcomed the arrival of the alcohol prevention materials with excitement. She immediately placed an apron on herself and gave them to workers in the bakery to wear.

Madrigal hopes anyone who comes into the store will ask about the aprons and other displays. Then “we can explain it to them,” she said.

Madrigal said she also hopes that the initiative will increase awareness in the Latino community so that children don’t start drinking alcohol underage, which could lead to more “bad things.” She said if parents spend more time with their children educating them on drugs and alcohol, it will help them stay safe.

“We want them to be something in the future,” she said.

The goal of eliminating underage drinking was sparked by a desire for nobody in the Latino community to "be left behind," according to Art Brown, co-chairman at Parents Empowered.

“Underage drinking does not do a young person any good at all,” Brown told the group Tuesday. It causes “a loss of your future, it impacts the young, developing brain, it subjects you to addiction,” he said.

Leslie Salamanca, 17, a senior at Wasatch High and member of Latinos in Action, said she believes the initiative will help kids to be better educated when it comes to substance abuse.

"The community is coming together to spread the facts," she said.

Salamanca said she feels confident that the initiative will help lessen the gap between cops and the Latino community. She hopes that all people can become better educated and come together as a community.

Salamanca, who will be next year's Latinos in Action president at Wasatch High, said the efforts her club is taking are working to push teens to positive actions such as service and higher education, to help them avoid drugs and alcohol.

Colleen Oshier, prevention coordinator at Wasatch Mental Health, said the project has been "in the works" for more than nine months. The initiative is funded by a grant received through Parents Empowered.

"Especially with everything that is going on in our nation, to see how all of these people can come together and take on something that is important and do something with it," Oshier said, "That's been really great for me."

"And it's just going to keep on going," she said.

The messages throughout the city will be posted for six months. Latinos in Action and Parents Empowered also plan education sessions and law enforcement outreach to continue to promote change in the Latino community of Heber City.

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