With the use of heroin rising in this area, “it’s not the time to be your child’s best friend. It’s time to be a parent,” emphasizes Choices director Cindy Blessing, echoing the sentiments of others who have gone to recent public forum on how to combat illegal drug use.
“These drugs aren’t discriminatory. They don’t care if you’re a cheerleader, FFA member, football player or normal, everyday kid. It’s not just a set group of kids who are using. It’s across the board.”
Choices, started by the Batesville Community School Corp. a handful of years ago, is a program premised on a three-prong approach: a parent pledge, educational programs and alternative activities, she reports.
Citizens have told Blessing, “We need Choices now more than ever.”
The program was imperiled when a Safe and Drug-Free Schools grant vanished. Blessing has gone from being an unpaid volunteer to one of three paid leaders, to co-director last year and now as director the only paid person. Her part-time salary is evenly funded by BCSC and the city. Dollars from local coordinating councils (LCC) in Ripley and Franklin counties help pay for speakers, supplies and other expenses.
One aim of Choices is “to get parents to realize you cannot let kids drink at your house.” Parents tell the director, “‘I take their (car) keys away. They’re safe at my house” when drinking alcohol there.
She points out, “First of all, it’s illegal. Plus you never know when somebody’s going to drink too much at your house,” which could lead to alcohol poisoning.
Parents who allow teens to drink liquor are being naive, she believes. “You don’t know what else they’re bringing into your house.”
Parents who wonder if a party invitation is at a safe home may access a listing of families who have promised not to serve or allow alcohol at the Web site wwwbatesvillechoices.com.
Choices information also is a link at www.notgoingtotakeitbatesville.com.
To understand what types of substances students are abusing here, Blessing checks out Facebook accounts, chats with Batesville High School Students Against Destructive Decisions members and other teens and parents and attends LCC meetings.
Since heroin has become more prevalent, the Choices focus has changed. She explains, “We used to be focused mainly on alcohol ... now we’re really trying to take a more active approach on heroin.”
Blessing, who also serves as the city’s wellness coordinator, assistant deputy clerk and building commissioner’s assistant, points out, “We do know most don’t go out one day and use heroin.” First they try alcohol and/or marijuana, known as gateway drugs. If students are using those, “their good decision-making skills are decreased. And that’s when they start looking for that better high, prescription pills or heroin. They’re always reaching for that better high.”
Did BHS student Cierra Adams’ heroin overdose death make students more aware of how dangerous drugs can be? “I think it made an impact ... For those who are using, I don’t know that it made them stop. I hope it did. We all know that for some, without help, (stopping) is not an option.” Of her death, Blessing knows “they still talk about it, but the teenage brain (thinks) ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’”
Be the Wall is a fresh program cropping up first in Franklin County and spreading to Ripley, Decatur and Dearborn. A State Road 46 billboard that depicts a wall is directed at parents. “You need to be the wall between teens and alcohol.” Cards will be distributed that have myths and facts about alcohol use.
Choices has started collaborating with SADD because “we all want the same outcome.” SADD leaders met with her last summer, presenting “a laundry list of things they wanted to do.” The first duo event was a September lights-out party for high schoolers with strobe and black lights illuminating teens wearing glow items, such as shutter shades, necklaces, sticks and messages on white T-shirts. “It was a huge hit.”
The Choices director partnered with Southeastern Indiana YMCA on a Halloween party and looks forward to working with Cierra’s Club organizers.
Coming up over Christmas break is a free movie with concessions for students in grades 6-8. An underground dance for that age group is possible as well.
“How can we get kids to ... communicate to somebody about their own or a friend’s problem or who’s dealing?” Blessing wondered. “We’re looking at having ... students sit down and talk to somebody (close to their ages) in a comfortable setting where they don’t feel intimidated by an adult or fear repercussions by talking.”
Blessing has a big idea for second semester if funding can be nabbed. She saw former Boston Celtics basketball standout Chris Herren on “Unguarded,” an ESPN special. His career folded after Herren battled drug addiction, including heroin. She predicts he would be a “fabulous speaker and very, very impactful.”
Indiana SADD leaders will arrive just before spring’s proms with stations for Batesville middle and high school, St. Louis and Oldenburg Academy students to visit. They will learn about why seat belts and driving sober are vital.
The director concludes, “We want to keep the program going. We’ve proven that it is effective, but the battle (against drugs) is always going to be there.”