March 18, 2016

Seen in: The Saratogian

Story by: Jennie Grey

Link to full article found here:

March 17 heralded the Prevention Council’s 34th annual Safe Spring Student Leadership Conference, held at Skidmore College for high-school students. The goal of the conference, sponsored by Saratoga County Stop DWI, was to motivate and prepare student leaders to actively engage their peers in effective local prevention initiatives centered around prom, graduation and other spring social events. More than 270 Saratoga County high school students from all 12 districts and BOCES learned from local prevention specialists and engaged in local awareness efforts.

Sophomore Meaghan Whalen from Galway Central School District said the conference was “really informative, fun and inspiring.”

“I met a lot of cool people and learned a lot,” she said.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen met with students at the conference.“As mayor of Saratoga Springs, sometimes I feel like the mother of 28,000 people,” she said. “The city and groups like the Prevention Council do a great deal to keep people safe here.“I know you’re taking the day off from school, and that’s a hardship,” she continued, smiling. “But this is really important because you’re going to learn a lot and save a lot of lives. Please make good decisions.”

This year, the Safe Spring conference focused on local awareness efforts and showcased hometown prevention heroes, said LeeAnn Mandrillo, communications specialist for the Prevention Council. The goal was for students to know what resources were available in their own communities, to learn from local leaders and to build partnerships enhancing what the students brought to their high school Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) clubs.

SADD is a peer-to-peer education, prevention and activism organization dedicated to stopping destructive decisions, particularly underage drinking, other drug use, risky and impaired driving, teen violence and teen suicide. SADD is considered the nation’s dominant peer-to-peer youth education and prevention organization, with thousands of chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges. Local students learn to be safe and sober leaders in their own communities, and to address substance-abuse issues in their own schools.

“Some of the high school clubs now have other names than SADD,” said Pat Marin, outreach and director of education services at the Prevention Council. “The students want to focus on more positive names like the Wellness Club.”

The South Glens Falls Central School District prevention club is called Sources of Strength. Senior Brittany Kenny said she joined because she wanted to help people who were struggling with addictive issues.“I wanted them to know they don’t have to go and abuse alcohol and drugs,” she said. “They can have the support of family and friends.”

According to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, more than 1.9 million New Yorkers have a substance abuse problem: 1.77 million adults and 156,000 youths ages 12-17. The teen years are the likeliest time for someone to start taking drugs. And starting drug use as a teen can lead to drug problems when young people grow up. Extensive research has shown definitely that teen peer programs can have statistically significant effects on attitudes, norms, knowledge, behaviors, and health and achievement outcomes of teens. This is especially true with alcohol and drug use.

So the students attended program sessions and discussed such issues as: Should the legal drinking age be raised to 25, when the brain is fully developed? What are the consequences of drinking during other activities than driving? Why is it dangerous to mix alcohol and marijuana? What are the effects of marijuana and prescription drugs on driving? What challenges are the SADD clubs facing? And what were the most positive things learned at the conference to bring back to their clubs?

“The speakers were really informative, and it was good to hear all the different points of view,” said sophomore Ben Lafreniere from Galway.His classmate, freshman Lindsey Gileski, said, “I loved how all the sessions brought things into real life.”

Local police and former police officers held sessions on social media awareness and driving safety. Saratoga Springs prevention educator Brian Farr spoke about how advertising and marketing lure young people to try alcohol.

Junior Morghan Fisk from South Glens Falls attended Farr’s session and said she found it eye-opening.“Things aren’t always what they seem,” she said.

Prevention Council staff held SADD club advisor training and also banner-making sessions for the students.Kenny and Fisk helped make a banner for their club, Sources of Strength.“We wrote on it, ‘Positive Minds, Positive Vibes, Positive Lives,’” Kenny said.

Yepsen said to the students, “Your commitment to getting that message out gives me great hope and great confidence.”