County students attend international prevention conference

Local Sources- Five hundred adolescents and nearly 2,000 adults, all of them focused on eliminating drug and alcohol use by teens, spent four days of July here sharing insights, comparing resources and learning about prevention work.

The Mid-Year Training Institute was hosted by the organization formerly called Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, now known as the Community-based, Advocacy-focused, Data-driven, Coalition-building Association. The annual conference, from July 17 to 20, drew participants from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The Dubois County Coalition for Adolescent Resilience and Empowerment Strategies is a CADCA member, and staff members Candy Neal and Martha Rasche accompanied four county youth to the conference. Attending were Jasper High School junior Ava Bower, Northeast Dubois High School senior Abby Evans and junior Morgan Brim, and Southridge High School junior Katherine Dubon. Southridge senior Ruth Sherer was a training assistant for CADCA.

Bower reported learning about health determinants and how to use them to develop an action plan to help solve problems.

“I realized during this experience that Dubois County is very good in most of the determinants, such as education, healthcare, built environment and more,” she said. “The one thing I noticed we were lacking in was social and community interaction. Our county’s community along with the separate communities of Jasper, Huntingburg, etc., are very separate and each town has their own stereotypes. This lack of unity in our county creates barriers between the people of our county.”

The big takeaway for her was “we can have separate communities, but by creating more connections, our county can flourish. With Dubois County CARES, I hope to create events and activities to more closely wind our towns together.”

Dubon said she learned the importance of acknowledging that a community’s risk factors can augment a problem.

“I saw that our major problem within our youth was that many of them have been or have started using vapes, which can lead to them misusing harder substances as their lives go on,” she said. “I love that they taught us how to start taking action and make plans and come up with strategies to help our communities.”

Ryan Leaf, a former National Football League player who left the league in shame after pairing doctor-prescribed Vicodin with alcohol and becoming addicted, was the keynote speaker for the conference.

Leaf was a first-round draft pick, second only to Peyton Manning, in 1998. He played for the San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks before retiring in 2002.

He was a millionaire by age 21, he said, but described his life from 2005 to 2010 as that of an addict and a burglar. When his crimes caught up with him, he was sentenced to seven years in the Montana State Penitentiary for felony burglary and drug possession.

Two years into Leaf’s sentence, his cellmate – who had been convicted for drunk driving resulting in death – convinced him to go to the prison library to help others learn to read.

“What I came to realize,” he said, “is that I was being of service to someone for the first time of my life.”

He has been sober 11-plus years and has been out of prison for eight and a half. He is a behavioral and mental health advocate and since 2019 has been employed by the Walt Disney Co. as an on-air personality for ESPN.

He still fights his addictions every day.

“I have a disease. It will not go away. It needs to be treated constantly,” he said.

As recently as June, his father-in-law visited Leaf and his family and had his daily medications with him.

“There are pills in the house?” Leaf remembers thinking, perking up like a dog detecting a bone in the vicinity.

He talked about the situation with his wife and they got a drug safe in which her dad could safely store his medicines during his stay.

“I surround myself with people who hold me accountable,” Leaf said.

University of Southern Indiana President Ronald Rochon, chairman of the CADCA board of directors, also addressed the attendees, as did CADCA President and Chief Executive Officer Barrye L. Price.

“This is emotive, compassionate, impactful work that we do – and shouldn’t be treated as a task,” Price said.