Local and national organizations are coming together this week to encourage students, parents and local residents to tap into one another’s thoughts about underage drinking, thanks to a proclamation from Mayor Marty Blum designating April 10-14 as Prevent Underage Drinking Week in Santa Barbara.

The city is hosting a town hall meeting titled “Start Talking Before They Start Drinking” at 5:30 p.m. on April 13 at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion downtown. According to the City of Santa Barbara’s website, the meeting will address such topics as minors’ access to alcohol, the consequences of illegal alcohol consumption and parental responsibility. The meeting is the main event of the week, although local high schools will also be hosting teach-ins to educate students about the perils of underage alcohol consumption.

Several local and national groups are hosting the town hall, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Santa Barbara chapter of Fighting Back, a national organization dedicated to combating substance abuse.

Penny Jenkins, executive director and president of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said a recent survey shows that 25 percent of students attending secondary schools in Santa Barbara have an alcohol abuse problem. Jenkins said the forum will address these issues.

“Basically, we’ve invited all kids and parents to talk about what we’re going to do about this underage drinking problem, and we’ll discuss possible solutions,” Jenkins said.

Susan Young, a supervisor for teen programs for the City of Santa Barbara Recreation & Sports, said the forum will address local college students as well as high school students.

“Some UCSB students are underage, and they legally and ethically should not be drinking,” Young said. “They can mentor younger teens and get involved and be supportive in their community [instead].”

Jenkins said most of the week’s events will focus on high school students. She said community leaders plan to visit local high schools and conduct seminars about underage alcohol abuse using materials provided by the SAMHSA’s Reach Out Now national teach-in program.

According to the SAMHSA website, teach-ins give prominent national, youth, state and local leaders the opportunity to encourage young people to make healthy decisions using teaching materials provided by SAMHSA.

Melody Mahdara, a sophomore biology major, said she thinks that teaching teenage alcohol abstinence is the wrong way to deal with underage alcohol abuse.

“I think that underage drinking is fine, as long as you are somewhat responsible,” Mahdara said. “There should not be a legal drinking age because that is what makes most kids [in America] binge drinkers compared to other countries where people grow up drinking.”