When Nancy Kneepkens approached Ayed Alquzah of M&M Food and Beverage about signing a pledge not to sell alcohol or tobacco to underage kids, he didn’t have to think long.
The pledge is called “The Good Neighbor Network Initiative,” and Kneepkens of Durham Together for Resilient Youth, or TRY, has been signing up stores and restaurants for almost two years.
“I think this is a great thing to do,” said Alquzah, who has owned the convenience store at 801 N. Mangum St. for 17 years. “It’s very important.”
Over the last two years, Kneepkens has gotten about 300 stores and restaurants in Durham to sign.
She has visited about 500 stores and restaurants so far, and says the reason more haven’t signed is that she hasn’t always been able to get to those locations when the manager or owner is there.
“I’ve never had a bad experience,” she said. “People are always courteous.”
Kneepkens even signed up Festival for the Eno River this year, as they sell beer.
“I try to be creative,” she said.
TRY is a coalition that unites parents, government, faith groups and others to attack the problem of drugs and alcohol among youth from a variety of angles, including working directly with young people. TRY was awarded a five-year, $625,000 federal grant in 2012 to support its work.
TRY has a new initiative called Sticker Shock where with the permission of a store owner, kids and their parents will visit a store and put stickers right on the bottles reminding the purchaser that it is illegal to purchase for or provide alcohol to anyone under 21.
More challenging has been an effort to sign up tobacco stores that sell items that could be used as drug paraphernalia. At a recent TRY meeting, cofounder Wanda Boone passed around items she had picked up at Durham stores.
Kneepkens has visited some of these stores too, but says employees are never specific about when the person in charge will be in.
“Pardon the expression, but it’s like smoke,” she said.
Boone said neighborhoods need to make their voice heard if they are having a problem with the stores.
“This is a community issue, and what we don’t want to see in our communities, we need to take it there,” she said.
Also at the meeting, Rufus Sales, chief enforcement officer for Durham County ABC enforcement,said his office has only two full-time officers to watch the 217 Durham County establishments that sell mixed drinks.
Sales said he will go into an restaurant or bar and observe, looking for any sales to customers under 21. The office also uses people who are under 21 or who just turned 21 and check if they are asked for identification.
Most first-time violations earn just a warning, Sales said.
“The first thing we do is identify the problem, then we’ll provide training,” he said.
Boone and her husband, Earl Boone, both pastors of a church, founded TRY in 2003. Wanda Boone had helped the Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Free Teenagers in Chapel Hill and Carrboro and wanted to form a similar organization in Durham.
Wanda Boone said she is motivated, in part, by having grown up with an alcoholic father.
According to Duke University research funded by TRY, more than 1,000 Durham County adolescents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Thirty percent of Durham high school students surveyed said they had been offered drugs on school grounds.