Ryleigh, a current sophomore in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is no exception. Last fall, while navigating the many stresses of freshman year, Ryleigh needed a place to fit in and be herself, as many of us do.In every aspect of life, it’s important to have a community; a feeling of connection to others based on common interests, attitudes, and goals. Ryleigh found a community within the school that accepted her, but this particular group had a negative influence that ended up escalating her problems.
“We did a thing called Toasted Tuesdays,” she says of her new crew’s activities, “We thought we were so cool because we came up with names for what we did.” But their “stoner group,” as Ryleigh calls it, found that their weekly smoke soon became much more. “It started turning into going on Monday, then going on Friday also, until it was every day to every-other day that we were smoking pot at lunch, and then drinking on the weekends.”
Unfortunately, the sobering crescendo of Ryleigh’s destructive behavior was her suicide attempt in May 2014. She had struggled with depression for a long time and says many peers offered her support over the years, but she didn’t feel comfortable confiding in them. Ryleigh recalls keeping a journal during her recovery in the hospital and writing a list of things she knew needed to change. She immediately made a personal pledge to quit smoking and drinking, and to be nicer to the people around her. This decision was the healthiest thing Ryleigh could do for herself at the time, but the new path wasn’t easy.
“At lunch, I was sitting with people I hadn’t talked to since third grade. Before, I was part of the stoner group, but then I got out of it and was like, where do I go now?,” Ryleigh says of the transition. “When I took away all of those things, I was just left with that girl I hadn’t talked to since third grade.”
Ryleigh needed a new community to give her the sense of connection and importance she had been searching for in that “stoner group,” and Idaho Drug Free Youth (iDFY) was just the thing. When she first attended iDFY’s annual Idaho Youth Summit in June 2014, she wasn’t sure what to expect. As Ryleigh found, contrary to what many people assume, iDFY is not just an organization solely focused on drugs and alcohol. While substance abuse among teens is certainly the largest driving factor behind the work iDFY does, their mission statement, “Empowering youth to lead happy, healthy lives,” rightly expresses so much more.
The adult employees and teenage members of iDFY work in their communities every day to reach as many students as possible. The events that Idaho Drug Free Youth organizes include the Youth Summit, as well as annual leadership retreats, facilitation trainings, community awareness events, and interactive school assemblies. The focus of all these events is really to bring iDFY’s mission statement to action by showing teens that leading the stand against substance abuse can help them and everyone around them live a better life.
“People need to realize that we’re not just going to sit in a room at camp and talk about heroin users dying. I thought it would be like that, but I got to camp and realized it’s so different,” Ryleigh recalls. iDFY has shown me what I can do, and given me a lot of support. iDFY has given me a place to belong, which is a really big deal for me. Now, I have people I know I can talk to. I feel comfortable around them.” Ryleigh’s experience shows that the connections forged through Idaho Drug Free Youth are strong and lasting, and create a web of lifelong friends across the state and beyond.
For more information on Idaho Drug Free Youth, visitwww.idahodrugfreeyouth.org.