(Note: family names have been changed for reasons of privacy)
As Jean stood at the door of her River Forest home listening as a police officer told her that her son, Will, had been taken to RUSH Oak Park Hospital with alcohol poisoning, she was scared, and knew she and her husband Vincent had a long night ahead of them.
Earlier that afternoon, Will, a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, had been found passed out in the bathroom of a local McDonald’s.
Everything from that point on, she said, is a blur.
However, what happened next, she said, could have been a lot worse, if they, as parents, had not made an effort to attend the inaugural IMPACT (Parents and Community Together) Parent Café at Unity Temple in 2010.
It was the year her son Will entered his teenage years, and at the high school, she had no idea what to expect, especially when it came to peer pressure and underage drinking.
“Luckily, someone at the McDonald’s called the police, and when we got to the hospital, it was not a stomach pump anymore, but rather they were running saline through his system,” she said.
When they knew their oldest son was OK, was when their parental detective work began.
Vincent says he started by phoning Will’s friends parents, the boys he knew were with his son during the drinking binge. He wanted to make sure those teens were safe, and at home.
That night, he was given the cold shoulder, feeling the parents “had circled the wagons,” he said.
The next day, Vincent uncovered Will’s cell phone in a pile of leaves. That is when clarity came, as well as confessions.
“We learned everything, because kids are really bad at covering their tracks,” Vincent said. “They were getting a ‘handle,’ which is slang for a bottle of liquor that is large enough (roughly a half gallon) that there is a handle built into it.”
The texts also revealed where the underage teens had purchased the liquor.
The only silver lining, Jean said, came when “we had all those families over to go over what happened that day, a couple of nights after it happened, and that particular strategy was one of the ideas at a Teen Café.”
Ron Orzel, board president of IMPACT, said this “is an example of why IMPACT is trying to encourage as many parents as possible to attend at least one Parent Café, which occur regularly at public sites in Oak Park and River Forest.
“We know that everyone at the high school is not drinking or doing marijuana, and, there are also a lot of parents out there who are not OK with this behavior, but they just do not talk about it,” says Orzel. “That is the aim of IMPACT’S Parent Cafe’s, to get those parents networking with each other.”
For Jean and Vincent, it was a wake up call.
Vincent says, “For some of these kids, the issue of alcohol in high school is going to be there sooner or later, and as parents, you have to give your kids some strategies. It is too hard for a kid who wants to be accepted to be alone.”