Orlando, FL- Dubois County students attended a national training to learn the latest information and tactics to encourage fellow youth to be alcohol- and drug-free.
Jasper High School student Ava Bower and Southridge High School students Richard Gutierrez and Ruth Sherer attended the 21 st annual Mid- Year Training Institute in Orlando from July 17 to 21. Mid-Year is sponsored by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA). The students are members of Dubois County CARES (Coalition for Adolescent Resiliency and Empowerment Strategies), the countywide coalition that works to encourage youth to make healthy life choices and abstain from alcohol and drug substances misuse. Dubois County CARES Coordinator Candy Neal and member Martha Rasche also attended and participated in adult training sessions, while the students attended the youth leadership training.
“An important thing I learned from this experience is how important it is to truly listen and hear people’s stories about their own drug and alcohol misuse along with mental health,” Ruth said. “It’s time to destigmatize these conversations. Instead of blaming and criminalizing people, try to understand WHY they turn to drug/alcohol misuse and get them the help they need.”
The group studied evidence-based prevention strategies and met members of prevention groups doing similar work in communities throughout the state, across the country and around the world. The CARES group heard from some of the top leaders in the field, such as Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Deb Houry, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Kordon, student member of the Hernando (Fla.) Community Coalition and James Walsh, principal deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. They also participated in a community service project at which they wrote letters and cards to adults living with chronic mental health conditions at Lakewood Center in Orlando, and to hospitalized children across the United States. The children’s letters will be distributed by the national organization Cards for Hospitalized Kids.
While Ava and Ruth went through the Youth Leadership Advanced Course training, Richard chose to attend the Youth Leadership Key Essentials training that emphasized cultural awareness, which was done in Spanish. There, he met and befriended several students from different countries.
“Before going to Mid-Year 2022, I had a mindset on what Mid-Year was going to be,” he said, “that we will be training and that we will just sit there for hours. But when I was going through my training, I noticed that the session was very interactive.”
“Overall, I learned that people from different backgrounds can work together by putting their differences aside to make a community stronger,” Richard said. The students attended several breakout sessions each day. Ava said that she learned two main ideas from those sessions.
“One thing is that after taking a closer look at Dubois County, we have a lot of work to do with substance misuse. We have made some progress but there is still a long way to go,” she said. “I also learned how to create community events that help take the steps to combat substance misuse within our community.”
Ava’s goal is to plan and implement activities for local youth through CARES. “These events will mainly be for teens,” she said, “and will include fun activities while keeping them away from harmful substances.” The students are working together with Dubois County CARES to encourage and support a sustainable alcohol-and drug-free culture for youth. They will lead the conversations and decisions in this regard, with the support of the coalition as a whole. A youth coalition of students from all four area high schools is currently being formed to continue this long- term work.
“I believe Dubois County can be a tight-knit community,” Ruth said, “but currently we are not facing issues that overall affect all of us, even if we aren’t directly affected by it. Reach out to your neighbors, friends, families, and coworkers and have open conversations about issues that are plaguing our community as a whole.”
Any Dubois County student who is interested in being a part of CARES’ youth coalition or want to learn more can contact Dubois County CARES at [email protected] or 812-827-8464. For more information about the coalition, visit www.DuboisCountyCARES.org. CARES is also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.