Tanya Southerland, Going Respectfully Against Addictive Behaviors Coalition director, said she is shocked by how early kids are exposed to addictive behaviors.
“A Bradley County Sheriff’s Office officer was talking to the class when two girls turned around in their chairs. At the same time they both asked me, ‘Did you hear Cory Monteith died of a heroin overdose?’” Southerland related. “You could have knocked me over with a feather, I was so shocked.”
Chad Ortego, YMCA staff member, agreed saying an elementary student transitioning to middle school is very likely to hear drug-related information.
GRAAB and the YMCA began their partnership earlier this year through an after-school program. Southerland explained the two entities wanted to continue their work into the summer, especially once she considered available statistics on the summer months.
Studies by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration discovered youths ages 12 to 17 are more likely to begin abusing substances during the summer than other times in the year.
The report published in July 2012 estimated that typically in the months of June and July:
n An average of 5,000 youths smoke cigarettes for the first time. This is an increase over the daily average of about 3,000 to 4,000 for the rest of the year.
n More than 4,500 youth start using marijuana on an average day. This is a 500 to 1,000 increase over the daily average during other months in the year.
n More than 11,000 adolescents use alcohol for the first time. With the exception of December, the daily average for the rest of the year’s first-time alcohol use ranges from 5,000 to 8,000.
Each camper’s schedule is divided between different activities. The prevention program was allotted time Monday through Thursday. Southerland said the focus was to make the experiences meaningful through engaging activities and speakers.
A set format was followed for the program: Monday, physical fitness; Tuesday, drug awareness; Wednesday, career choices; and Thursday, social responsibility.
Campers were asked at the beginning who they wanted to hear from. Some requested a doctor while others wanted to hear from a lawyer. All the kids were intrigued by the opportunity to hear from a police officer.
Guest speakers who were able to make it out included Mark Gooch, Life Care Centers of America director of business intelligence; WRCB Channel 3 news anchor David Carroll; BCSO Lt. Doug Towne; Cleveland Police Department officers Jennifer McKee and Chris Lewallen; and Patrick Long, United Way of Bradley County vice president of development strategies.
Rubye McGruder, YMCA staff member, said the combination of the four components has had a positive impact on campers.
One camper in particular has really grown.
“When the students first came to the program, he would lie to you without even thinking,” McGruder recalled. “Last week, there was an incident and he came in and he was so mature.”
The young middle schooler sat down and apologized for his behavior.
“He actually gave us all the right information, because a lot of the stuff was being blamed on another student” McGruder said. “He stepped up and said, ‘No, that is not the case.’”
She said she believes the program has helped the young boy become more respectful and responsible.
It is not the first time McGruder has seen growth among young teenagers. An old program of the YMCA, Adopt a Grandparent, stands out in her mind.
Older members of the community were asked to participate in the program. Teenagers were then introduced in their lives through acts of service. Girls worked inside the house while boys mowed, raked and completed general upkeep outside.
“Ms. Rose” accepted the opportunity to be in the program without realizing what she was getting herself into.
The Y’s youth initially only showed up on the set days. Before long, they began stopping by just to say hello. Students who moved from the middle school program into high school would meet the group in their own cars. When Ms. Rose moved to a local nursing home, so did the visits.
“I remember when she passed away. Her daughter called me and I had the liberty of telling all the kids,” McGruder said. “Just to see the impact when I told them. It was like their grandmother had just died.”
She called the older kids who remained in touch with Ms. Rose.
“Everyone who had been around her and involved, all of them showed up and they went to the funeral together,” McGruder said. “They sat with the family because they were her family.”
Ortego, McGruder and Southerland said they would like to see the summer program continue into the fall. Southerland was especially interested in seeing old events like Friday night teen night and the Adopt-A-Grandparent project return. For now the three hope the middle school students will spread the lessons they learned to their friends in the fall.
Poolooza will finish off the summer events. The event will take place Saturday, Aug. 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and is open to any middle school student in the area.
The YMCA/GRAAB after school program will continue this fall at Ocoee, Cleveland and Lake Forest middle schools Monday through Friday. More information can be found by contacting either GRAAB at 423-472-5800 or the YMCA at 423-476-5573.