MIddle and high school students are Above The Influence of drugs and alcohol through a unique approach combining artistic expression with education and peer group support. In Montalvo, Alabama, students are learning that saying no to drugs includes opportunities for alternatives.
Nearly 100 teens quickly signed up for the program which is organized by the Shelby County Drug Free Coalition and others.
“We were ecstatic,” said Zina Cartwell, prevention coordinator for Chilton-Shelby Mental Health Center, which has been organizing activities for youth in Montevallo for several years.
Groups including Chilton-Shelby Mental Health Services, Bradford Health Services, the Shelby County Board of Education, the Shelby County Drug-Free Coalition and others are offering the program called Above the Influence for middle and high school students in Montevallo starting this week.
“It’s a different approach to drug prevention,” Cartwell said. “It brings the arts, music, spoken word, poetry and dance, and it’s a way for them to express themselves individually and give them opportunities to learn different ways” for avoiding substance abuse, sexual activity and other problems they can encounter at a young age.
“It’s not enough to tell them to say no to drugs when you don’t give them the opportunity to do something else. Given that Montevallo is such an isolated area, there’snot much to do, so where are the alternatives?” Cartwell said. “When you give them alternatives and get them fired up about the alternatives, they’re going to love being around it”.
More than drug prevention
Cartwell envisions the meeting’s format will allow students the chance to talk about issues they face. “We want to use this as a way for them to express themselves and let us know what you’re going through, because a lot of times they don’t have an opportunity to talk about things that are going on at home or going on in their relationships,” she said.
“Eventually what we want to do is find a venue where they can have a spoken word night, bring out their family and friends and show their talent,” she said. “We’re going to have some people come in and give their testimony. … We are going to talk about leadership. We are going to talk about setting goals. We are going to talk about how to give back to your community.
She added, “It’s just about giving them a voice.”
While the program is new for Montevallo, it’s been happening in Pelham High School and Riverchase Middle School in Pelham for a few years, said Tesa Engram, coalition coordinator for Family Connection, a nonprofit located near Alabaster that helps youth and families in areas including Shelby County and Birmingham.
Cartwell said offering the program in Montevallo is another way to help youth in the community.
“We’ve been doing these prevention programs in Montevallo for eight years and a lot of the kids already knew me,” Cartwell said. “That’s the importance of being in an area where you’re building a rapport with the kids. … When they see that you are consistent and you are looking out for their well-being and they can come and talk to you about anything, they are going to be interested in whatever you do.”
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