CDFY shows hope toward educating children and helping others succeed in recovery.
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Some of us didn’t make the best choices when we were teenagers. As kids, we may be more inclined to push our limits and do things that we hesitate to tell our parents about, whether out of fear or embarrassment. Some of us are fortunate enough to have no residual damage or pain caused by those decisions.
Now, as parents, educators, and adults, we do our best to create an environment where our youth can grow in freedom, responsibility, and wisdom without the pressures of drug use. We want to protect them from making choices that can devastate their lives. Teenagers like Katie, who has worked with a local Jefferson City adolescent substance use disorder treatment center, can share how the impact of substance use affects their daily lives.
For Katie, her journey only started one year ago, at the age of 15. Katie was a straight-A student, competitive swimmer, and involved in her faith community while living with her family, which gave her the structure and rules she needed to thrive as a young person. Katie’s life changed drastically after she was introduced to drugs and alcohol by people she considered friends.
“To a young person struggling and feeling alone, who started or is actively using substances, reach out for help, no matter what happened to you.”Katie
It was her 16th birthday when she decided to cross a line that she had not crossed before and celebrate her special day by using marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco. As her substance use began, Katie’s structured world began to unwind and became unmanageable. As the drug use continued, she was forced to move from home to home due to her inability to follow the rules, as well as other factors of abuse. She continued to hang around the wrong crowd of peers, and she lied to her support systems about relationships and friendships because her focus was on getting high. Her downward spiral even led her to the point that she felt she didn’t have anyone that she could trust or anyone that would believe her when she would speak about the horrific situations she had found herself in and the abuse she was experiencing.
Katie’s substance abuse and addiction led her to be placed in a residential substance use treatment facility. She was resistant to the idea of help, especially the idea of being placed in a facility for 60 days. The first week was the toughest. Her eyes often filled with tears and anger, complete with outbursts at the staff who attempted to show Katie there is another way of living. As time passed and the drugs slowly worked their way out of her system, she began to make progress and continued to work toward her recovery. While in treatment, Katie was also able to address her past trauma and identify the connection between her drug use and her past abuse. She learned the idea of acceptance, began to understand the impact of change, and gathered all the tools needed to help continue her road of recovery. Now a bright-eyed 16-year-old, she has many goals set, such as graduating from high school, getting a job, continuing therapy, and building healthy social networks, along with many other short and long-term goals. As a young person in recovery, who is identifying the twists and turns her life has taken, Katie was adamant about getting her message out to other teens who may be struggling with the same issues.
“To a young person struggling and feeling alone, who started or is actively using substances, reach out for help, no matter what happened to you,” Katie says. “Don’t give up on yourself! Change isn’t easy, but the more you talk about what’s going on, the stronger you are.”
There are many factors, such as life experiences, untreated mental health disorders, past traumas, and genetic predisposition that can lead to having a substance use disorder. Some forms of faulty thinking, like condoning alcohol or drug use in the home, may also lead to substance abuse issues. Parents or adults might think, “Well if my son or daughter is drinking alcohol at home under my supervision, it’s OK.” Or they may think, “My child only smokes tobacco or marijuana occasionally, which won’t cause long-term damage.” Parents need to understand the impact of their own choices and how they may have a significant influence on their children’s decisions to experiment with alcohol and other drugs.
One of the most positive influences during a child’s adolescence is maintaining a strong, open relationship with a parent, educator, or adult trusted by that child.
“I took advantage of my relationship with my parents or people who cared about me, but I [later] realized that those rules and boundaries were set to keep me safe,” Katie says. “It is never too early to talk to your children about alcohol and other drugs. Parents should communicate with their children, tell them that you love them, listen when your kid speaks to you, and don’t downplay the struggles they may be facing, because the struggles are very real for your child.”
From its beginning in 1983, the Council for Drug Free Youth has been one of the many organizations that play a role in youth development. Many adults love to share their experience being in the Safety Kid program and singing the catchy jingle, “We’re the safety kids, the safety kids, the safety kids, keeping the rules!” While people may know about the Safety Kids program, many more have donated time or money toward our mission to have a healthy, vibrant youth community.
“It is never too early to talk to your children about alcohol and other drugs.”Katie
CDFY has blossomed over the many years to educate thousands of youth and adults in six counties throughout Mid-Missouri. CDFY helps improve the lives of youth by providing substance use prevention programs within schools through CDFY’s three peer-to-peer performance groups: the Safety Kids group, which focuses on educating grades kindergarten through fifth; the Show-Me Players group, which focuses on educating fourth and fifth grade; and UPLIFT group, which focuses on educating sixth grade. CDFY’s Safety Kids program has been performing for youth in Mid-Missouri since 1988 and CDFY has experienced many amazing young people since that time.
“I like that we get to show kids not to do drugs,” says Alex Niekrasz, a Safety Kid from Blair Oaks Intermediate School. “I hope this helps them when they’re older to know what addiction can do to them.”
“As a parent of a Safety Kid, and while being new to CDFY, I’m amazed at how much the kids become a part of the community . . . outside of school and outside of sports,” says Anna Haley, Alex’s mother. “CDFY Safety Kids unites schools, sports clubs, etc., by bringing kids together with a common goal that they share readily with youth their age and younger in hopes that information will stick with them into the future. It’s been great watching them come out of their shells and be so eager to teach the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco abuse by using popular songs and fun dance moves.”
CDFY also has multiple educational programs, including the Communication Offers Positive Enforcement (COPE) program, which educates seventh graders to help students think through substance use or suicidal situations they will possibly encounter with friends, family, or a stranger. The Team Challenge program focuses on eighth graders by encouraging trust, understanding, and acceptance among peers through communication with a strong substance abuse prevention message. CDFY’s Baseline program focuses on high school students by increasing awareness of the impact that alcohol and other drugs can have on a high school student, the family, and the community. Lastly, the Second Chance Change program is a partnership program with Crossroads Rehabilitation, based in St. Louis, and offers students who’ve been caught using substances an alternative to suspension. This gives students and parents or guardians the opportunity to participate in a four-part session program to learn about and implement life skills.
CDFY’s Youth Committee engages the community through various activities and volunteering while promoting a healthy lifestyle to their peers and promoting positive youth development. The committee provides the community with the opportunity to provide positive experiences, positive relationships, and positive environments, which in turn provides youth-positive development. While serving on the committee, members can engage in community decision-making within schools, government, and other entities by protecting what’s important for their future. The youth committee develops leadership and life-building skills to use with fellow youth members in the community.
With all that CDFY does for youth in the community, earlier this year, CDFY assumed another program called The Anne Marie Project. The Anne Marie Project provides schools with an evidence-based program called Signs of Suicide (SOS). SOS is training that school administrators and staff, along with adults, receive from Chad’s Coalition, based in St. Louis, through a three-year training process. During the training process, school staff, administrators, and adults benefit from partnering with Chad’s Coalition, as experts will help guide them the entire way each year along with data processing and analysis. CDFY is excited to continue the great work started by Anne Marie Project and offer SOS training to schools throughout Cole and other outlying counties.
It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to educate youth, and the community, about substance use and mental health. CDFY will continue to motivate, educate, and collaborate to promote drug-free healthy lifestyles among youth in Mid-Missouri. After more than 35 years, they look forward to working with many other organizations, community members, and youth, as CDFY understands that youth are our future.
Warning Signs For Mental Health Issues
• Changes in school performance
• Excessive worry or anxiety
• Hyperactive behavior
• Frequent nightmares
• Frequent disobedience or aggression
• Frequent tantrums
More information can be found at nami.org.
Warning Signs For Substance Abuse
• Shifts in mood and personality
• Negative behavioral changes
• Bad hygiene and appearance
• Decline in physical health
More information can be found at drugfree.org.