The program is designed to dispel the myths surrounding drug abuse and provide youth a platform to speak up and out against drugs. By focusing on the innate talents and strengths that young people already have, they become their biggest advocates for staying drug–free. The rallies cover four main areas: Media Myths, The Science, Living the Example: Spotlight and Youth Voices. Check out photos from the kick-off rallies here >>
Prior to the rallies, a total of 136 students from the three schools participated in spoken word poetry workshops led by Mentor’s own program facilitator, Sergio Chavez.These workshops encouraged students to think about their connection and/or experiences with drugs and drug abuse, involving themselves or people they knew. Their writings were filled with stories of pain, but also of hope. Prompts such as, “Do you know how powerful you are?” allowed students to discuss what makes teens amazing. Other prompts such as, “Let me warn you,” challenged students to write creatively from the perspective of a dangerous substance to deter teens from using them. The results were inspiring and insightful.
A “Memory Wall” was on display prior to the rallies, commemorating teens who had lost their lives due to drug abuse. These stories of heartbreak illustrated the real, possible outcomes of substance use.
Chavez began each rally with the section “Media Myths,” which exposed the myths of drug use perpetuated in media such as music, sports and movies. Students then engaged in a discussion of “The Science,” which looked at how the brain works and its connection with addiction; students learned how those connections related to drug abuse. They were encouraged to ask questions to learn more about drugs and the developing brain.
A new feature to the program titled, “Living the Example: Spotlight” highlighted students’ positive activities. Sandra Goldmeer, manager of programs and youth development at Mentor, began the section by sharing about Mentor’s passion for featuring stories about what teens are doing to make their world a better place.
“Living the Example is about finding ways to focus the light of your passions and allowing it to shine on others,” saidSandra Goldmeer, manager of programs and youth development. “Living the Example means living your dreams, so that your light can brighten more than just your corner of existence.”
The students had the opportunity to share how they “live the example” of a positive, drug-free life. Next to the “Memory Wall,” students refocused the space from heartbreak to hope by placing messages about what they are doing now or what they hope to do to make the world a better place.
“Students attending the rally filled up a whole wall with sticky notes stating ‘I live the example by’ with such messages as ‘helping others by coaching sports and taking EMT classes’,” said Karol Harlow, principal of Germantown High School.
Each rally concluded with “Youth Voices,” a section for students from the poetry workshops to present their original spoken word pieces. One participant told the story of his 14-year-old cousin who had died just a few weeks prior of alcohol poisoning. Other poems urged teens to reach and achieve their goals without substances. Enthusiastic applause followed each presentation; the audience members conveyed their sensitivity to the plight of adolescent drug abuse.
The rallies serve as the beginning of an impactful year of programs. A crucial component of “Shatter the Myths” programming is the “Youth Ambassador Network”; YAN consists of 15 to 20 students per school. In addition to leadership skills training, Youth Ambassadors will learn how to utilize social media to promote substance abuse prevention and to highlight teens living life without drugs.
“The Living the Example social media training is designed to give teens and young adults an online voice,” said Dr. W. Douglas Evans, professor of prevention & community health and global health at George Washington University. Evans explains that: “In a five-week, afterschool program, we train youth to be effective advocates for behavior change among their peers using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other channels.We teach them about creating effective messages, using branding strategies, how to use video and graphics to tell stories and how to spread the word about prevention in their social networks.”
By reaching out to their school, community, friends and other networks, Youth Ambassadors spread the message of Mentor and Living the Example. In addition, they will create “Change Projects” to promote drug abuse prevention and emphasize other ways teens can reach their personal and professional goals, in line with Mentor’s mission of empowering youth to reach their full potential.
George Washington University oversees the data collection and research. The “Shatter the Myths” program in Columbia County is making it possible with generous support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Rip Van Winkle Foundation, Columbia County Community Healthcare Consortium, and Hudson River Bank & Trust Foundation.
“The Foundation is proud to support Mentor’s Shatter the Myths program at three Columbia County schools, and has succeeded in securing the confidence of faculty and students in their methodology to help control and resolve substance abuse,” Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., chairman of the Rip Van Winkle Foundation, said. “We anticipate more local philanthropic institutions will be persuaded to join and generously support our youth who are the bedrock of our future.”
Keep up to date with these and other exciting developments at the schools by visiting www.mentorfoundationusa.org.
by Deepa Ramudamu