I write this AfterParty Hero profile with a heavy heart. As a recovering alcoholic adult, who spent over a decade trying to figure out what was wrong with her, I wonder if I could have saved myself years of shame and anguish—not to mention the discomfort of getting sober—if I had only known Jake White. Perhaps if I had my shit together enough in high school and had managed to get into college; and then been fortunate enough end up on a campus that had Party.0, a growing movement of college students who throw sober parties, things may have gone a lot different for me. But alas, I am only now meeting the 23-year old entrepreneur and mastermind behind the organization that offers college kids another alternative—a safe and fun place to make friends and feel good without the pressure to do drugs or drink. Say what?!
When I first heard about Jake and Party.0, I immediately called bullshit. As a former teenager, you couldn’t have paid me to attend a sober event (literally, I often showed up to work drunk or high) so it was unfathomable to me that there was actually a business that attempted such a futile effort, let alone a thriving one. But after some research and correspondence with White, Party.0’s co-founder (along with Steven Vanevenhoven), I was amazed to learn that not only were sober parties happening but kids seemed to like them. So, after personally trying to throw dozens of parties in my life with alcohol and failing, I had to know—how in the hell do you get 18-year olds to show up to a party without booze?
According to White, it’s not as hard as you might think.
“College students are not excited about becoming a statistic of death, date rape and drop outs that revolve around alcohol use,” White says, which makes a lot of sense in theory. But when I was in my teens and 20s, I never thought about stuff like that. Not that I wasn’t aware that bad things happened, I just didn’t think they could happen to me. But maybe the success of Party.0 is a positive indication that responsible drinking campaigns are actually working. But what about kids like me who came from unstable and chaotic households and wanted nothing more than to fit in? Well, if fitting in means not drinking then how genius is that?
“[Kids] go to parties because it’s the popular, and sometimes the only, way to have fun and make friends on the weekends,” White adds. “We’ve found that 90% of students are looking for something different to do and that 150 will come to a sober party on any given weekend. If freshmen continue to arrive on campus and find that alcohol parties are the only way to make friends and have fun, that’s exactly what they’ll do. We’re just offering an alternative so that students who don’t want to drink or do drugs also have a place to hang out, meet new people and get crazy on the weekends.”
One thing that makes Party.0 such a success is that it is organized and run by other students. It’s not like most other “squeaky clean” teen events, which operate under the guise of being a student organization, yet fall under a university or corporate umbrella. Party.0 appeals to kids the same way alcoholics respect other recovering alcoholics, because they can relate to where they are coming from, what they need and what is going to work for them.
Beyond their great concept, Party.0 also employs the ancient technique of face-to-face promotions to get the word out about their events. A tradition of marketing that became all but extinct at the turn of the last century, White and his cohorts feel that a person can walk past a poster 5 times and still not think about attending the event. “In fact, you can go and feel like a number,” he says. “We personally invite people to join our texting list. It makes people feel valued and included when we ask them to come to our parties. That way we only have to promote in the beginning of the year and then just send out a mass text when there’s a party.” Wait a second—so they actually talk to people? So simple yet so terrifying.
Though White himself doesn’t drink, he is not someone who is anti-alcohol. “Many students actually drink responsibly. Over half the students who attend Party.0 events actually enjoy drinking, but they choose [to attend]our sober events over drinking that night. Many students start drinking because it’s the social thing to do, and we don’t want to shame them or anything. We want to give them a place to belong that doesn’t depend on what they drink.”
But if you are going to hit up a Party.0 event, don’t think you are going to “pre-game” with booze and drugs. “We always have someone at the door as security, making sure our guests come sober,” White says. “After a month or so, people know that they can’t show up drunk.”
Other than the obvious reasons not to drink or use drugs, White says that students always tell him about other advantages to being sober during college. They save money, develop real genuine relationships and never have to worry about the long-term consequences of underage drinking.
“In my mind,” White adds, “the real prize of partying sober is that you aren’t relying on anything else to loosen up, have fun or gain confidence. So when the time comes for you to ask someone out, strike up a conversation with a stranger or even be confident in an interview, you won’t have to rely on anything but who you are. As humans we are constantly teaching our mind and body how to react to certain situations. So if you are using drugs or alcohol to have fun, relax, feel more secure or anything else, then you’ll continue to use substances for those things in the future.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Photo courtesy of Jake White
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