Accentuate the positive.
That was the message Students Against Destructive Decisions at Youngsville High School brought to the Town Hall meeting Wednesday night.
Host Nikole Rook introduced the SADD members, and fellow member Michelle Cantrell started with, “Our focus tonight is three points (from the Warren County portion of the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, or PAYS) that show the positive outweighs the negative. The first is individual, where PAYS shows that, overall, 75 percent of students disapprove of student use of drugs and alcohol.”
The second point is that family attachment ranks in the 56th percentile, six points higher than the state average, and opportunities for students to make meaningful contributions to their families ranks 54th.
The third point relates to community. Young people experience bonding as feeling valued and being seen as an asset. Students who feel recognized and rewarded by their community are less likely to engage in negative behaviors because that recognition helps increase a student’s self-esteem and the feeling of bondedness to that community. County students ranked 58th, eight points higher than the statewide scores. They also ranked 62nd for opportunities to serve the community through service clubs and organizations like 4H.
School rewards and recognition, like teachers’ praise to both students and parents, earned a 58.
The highest score was a 70 for community disorganization, which reflects students’ views of the lack of negative factors, like graffiti, abandoned buildings, fighting, and drug selling.
Several SADD students and members of the community related stories regarding drugs and alcohol that have affected thier lives.
Rook said, “My foster father drank for eight years… when he realized what that was doing to my family, he quit. He has been sober for 10 years. He is a wonderful man, who is loving and strict.” She also spoke of SADD’s recurring theme: “It’s knowing where to draw the line when making decisions.”
Kennedie Ebersole described an automobile accident involving a number of her friends who had previously been smoking marijuana. Two of the victims sustained broken backs, one of whom was in a coma for several days.
Cantrell described losing her father to a drug overdose when she was very young. She said, “He was in jail during the first four of my five years. Now I strive to do my best so he would be proud of me.”
Justin Ludwig, a drug and alcohol counselor with Deerfield Behavioral Health, said, “Where do I draw the line? (I did) when I made the state correctional institution. I do this now to give back what I have taken for a long, long time. When I was 17 years old, I was sticking needles in my arms in between classes. Today I work in a drug and alcohol treatment center, but every morning when I look in the mirror.. . I say to myself you are a drug addict.”
He spoke at length of how his church is now a big part of his life, and how he is reconnecting with his children. Speaking to the students who organized the meeting and told their stories, he said, “This is a beautiful thing you are doing.”
Youngsville Police Chief Todd Mineweaser, who along with Youngsville Borough employee Abbey Wolfe helped students start the town hall project, told the audience and SADD members, “You gotta walk the walk. If you represent SADD at school, and party on weekends, your friends are going to know it and think it is hypocritical. (Making the right decisions) it’s tough.”
Warren attorney Bernard T. Hessley told those at the meeting, “If I had made the wrong decisions, I wouldn’t be standing here today. You are young and in control of your life. If you are doing something positive, you don’t have time to make bad decisions. (For those who haven’t) Justin is proof you can change. It is easier to stay on the right path than to scratch and claw your way out of a pit.”
He also said making wrong decisions can affect more than just the person who made them. He said, “For example, two grams of cocaine, about the weight of a couple of paper clips, the minimum sentence guidelines require one year in jail. The lawyer has no choice, and the judge has no choice.”
The evening concluded with audience members filling out a short survey about things they may have learned, and other topics for the future.
The next event in the series will be a SADD conference at Holy Redeemer Center in Warren on Friday, April 19.