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As students begin a new school year, one St. Mary’s group wants them, their parents and the community around them, to think about more than classes and homework.

Underage and binge drinking has been a concern here, as it has with communities across the nation. And, the Community Alcohol Coalition has been working since 2012 to create awareness about the issue and address problems through outreach, education, and by partnering with government and law enforcement. The group is hosting a public meeting next week for parents who want to begin a dialogue with their children and teens who want to resist peer pressure or offer friends an alternative to drinking. Church groups and citizens who care are invited, too.

“Everyone is welcome to join,” said program coordinator Kendall Hiser. The session is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 6 p.m. in Meeting Room A of Health Connections, on the second floor of the Outpatient Pavilion at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown. Light refreshments will be served. The group meets monthly on fourth Tuesdays at the same time and place.

So far, the coalition has about 30 members, Hiser said. And, if others want to learn more, “they can contact me,” she said. Call 301-475-6019.

This time of year, students are getting back together and they do start talking about either wanting to drink or about parties, said Christopher Shea, coalition chair.

“Also, think about adults who host parties,” said Shea, a counselor who specializes in clients grappling with substance abuse and addiction, and works as a campus ministry leader at St. Mary’s Ryken High School. “They think it’s OK if they drink there at our house — they’ll be safe. We’re trying to get parents to think about the dangers and legal ramifications of doing that.”

Social hosting, or adults allowing youth to drink in their homes, can be expensive — up to $2,500 in fines per violation or more than $20,000 for an adult busted for hosting a party with several underage drinkers.

And underage drinking doesn’t always happen behind closed doors. Last November, deputies issued seven citations to underage partygoers in Colton’s Point. About 60 kids attended a post-homecoming party in a field where several parents dropped them off around a campfire, where police said alcohol bottles were in plain view.

In October, deputies busted 10 teens for drinking at Leonardtown High School’s homecoming, with one reportedly seen vomiting in the parking lot. And the county’s Alcohol Beverage Board that fall also issued a violation to Lighthouse Liquors in Charlotte Hall for selling malt liquor to a 17-year-old girl working in conjunction with a sheriff’s deputy.

Tuesday’s Community Alcohol Coalition meeting will focus on retail and social availability of alcohol, and what’s considered acceptable and unacceptable socially when it comes to underage drinking.

The group also is making plans to have an outreach table at the county fair next month.

They’ve been discussing a new matrix, approved last month by the Alcohol Beverage Board, which makes underage drinking penalties clear, and attempts to standardize them, Shea said. They include mandatory Responsible Alcohol Service Training, fines and suspension of alcohol licenses for businesses.

“This topic is one dear to my heart,” Shea said. And, he’s encouraged that it’s a grassroots effort.

“When it comes from the community, you have more involvement and buy-in,” he said. “We can get more done because they already recognize it.”

nclark@somdnews.com