Preventing Addiction is About Empowering Students
The following stories come from prevention specialists with Serenity House’s Impact Youth Prevention program. These prevention specialists teach evidence-based curriculum to youth in schools in order to build resiliency towards substance abuse. By empowering students with the skills to successfully navigate life, they are helping to break the cycle of addiction in these students’ families and in our country.
This semester I had the opportunity to work with students at a local middle school. One day after our lesson on tobacco, one young girl approached me and told me that she had put together for the first time that she was experiencing side effects of second-hand smoke and that this was the cause for much discomfort during her days. I felt sorry for the girl, and we brainstormed some ideas on how to avoid the second hand smoke. Throughout the subsequent weeks she would consistently meet me after class and keep me updated on her struggle. I would share a few tips here and there, but mainly I was a safe, listening ear as she complained about her parents habit. This student was initially one of the more troublesome students in the classroom, but after these conversations her behavior improved dramatically. It was a blessing to be able to be there for a young person in distress and to be able to point her towards the school nurse and the school counselor, both ideas that she had not considered before.
At the end of the year Feast of Sharing event she found us at our booth and made sure to introduce her mother and grandparent to me. She told them how thankful she was for the time we had in class together. The biggest success for me was being able to see the this young girl start to make the transition from viewing her parents tobacco addiction as a lack of love for her, to a viewpoint of “my parents are addicted and that doesn’t mean they don’t love me”. That is where we left our 3 min. counseling sessions. When she said goodbye to me at the Feast of Sharing she made sure to tell me how thankful she was for me and the time I spent talking with her. In that moment I could see the impact our time together had made, and it reminded me why I took this job in the first place.
I recently had the pleasure of working with the students at a local alternative education center for six weeks and it was very eye opening. At the beginning of the curriculum I noticed that there were a lot of students I recognized from different organizations I had worked with. A few days into the program, a girl showed up who clearly did not want to be there at all. After class her teachers explained that she normally gets kicked out of school once a week and does not seem to care at all.
About two weeks later I showed up and her teacher told me that the student wanted to speak with me. As we talked I realized that she wanted some help getting her life back on track so I made a referral for her to start going to a local social service agency for youth. Within just a few weeks, I noticed a 360 degree turn around in her. She was in class every time I was there, and she told me she had found a job. The changes she was making set an example for the other students who realized that if she could change they could as well. My last day was a hard day because all I could think about was whether the changes were real or just a front to make me feel good. Then as I was leaving the class the students began to say thank you Mr. O and some said “I promise to keep doing good to make you proud.” My last words to the class were “Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself.”
Visit the Impact Youth Prevention website for more information about how Serenity House is working to break the cycle of addiction in our communities.