Students flooded into the Hoquiam High School classroom where Izzy Chavez passed around a sign-in sheet. Pleased to see an increased attendance, Chavez began prompting the teens for ideas on what they should name their “prevention club.” Kids laughed as they tossed around names and shared logos they had designed. The room developed a positive energy as more kids hustled in to find their seats.
Although there was much in the way of laughter and joking, the two dozen or so kids were all there for one reason: They wanted to make a difference. My TOWN Coalition is dedicated to reducing the rates of underage drinking and drug abuse in the community. Seeking to have a positive impact on the entire cycle of parent-child relationships and conversations, education, and community effort, the partnership between Department of Behavioral Health and Recovery, Hoquiam High School, and Capital Region ESD 113 True North Student Assistance and Treatment Services enabled Chavez to be part of the team. Chavez is on-campus at Hoquiam High School and is in charge of assessing students, intervening for kids coming off addiction, heading up drug and alcohol prevention teams, and substance abuse education in the classroom.
In past years, drug and alcohol education has often been limited to “just say no” campaigns and learning how to identify a drug operation if you saw one. So much focus has gone into defensive tactics, prevention has often been an afterthought. The winds are changing, however, and the Coalition has increased funds to support preventative measures within the community.
For Izzy Chavez, his work takes on a personal note. Having graduated from Hoquiam High School, he is excited to be making a difference doing what he loves in his hometown. “I’ve always wanted to work with young people,” says Chavez, who believes a focus on prevention will make a world of difference in the lives of teenagers. “We discovered that not a lot of kids got information about drugs prior to being offered them. Maybe the subject was touched on a little during health class, but it didn’t seem like they really knew what they [the drugs] were and so being curious, didn’t really think about what they were doing. Now we’re trying to get them the information.”
Over the month of October, Chavez will conduct weekly classes with Hoquiam freshmen, educating them as to the hazards of substance use. These once-a-week classes were designed to help keep information fresh in the students’ minds. Though the dangers of drugs are a predominant topic, Chavez is not limiting his teaching to the science. He helps students develop refusal skills and talks to them about judgment versus compassion towards those who have developed an addiction. “I’m trying to give them a different perspective on what an addict is,” says Chavez. With learning aids like The Anonymous People documentary, Chavez hopes to change negative attitudes toward those who are caught in addiction and help students be more intentional about prevention.
Something Chavez is excited about is the beginning of a new high school group he calls, “The Affected Others Group.” Perhaps the most direct method of prevention, this group will focus on teens who have been negatively affected by the substance abuse of a loved one. Chavez says this group is his biggest goal for the year. “A group like this will show kids they aren’t alone. Kids who have been exposed to substance abuse by a friend or family member are at higher risk for addiction,” Chavez explains. He encourages teens, especially those at a higher risk, to find someone they can confide in and ask for help when they need it. Addressing those who are affected by, but not necessarily addicted to, drugs may be a major key to prevention.
For Chavez, prevention has many different faces. In his yet-to-be-named prevention club, teens enthusiastically tossed around ideas for posters and speakers addressing depression or negative body image. Drug prevention is much deeper than just saying “no.” It is about empowering the individual and helping them have a positive outlook on themselves and their lives. It’s about giving them a good reason to say no and educating them as to the havoc substance abuse can wreck on a young life. Sometimes, just letting a potential abuser know someone cares about their welfare is the only prevention they need.
Lucky for Hoquiam High School, Chavez does care. Caring is contagious and the prevention club has the energy to begin a new trend if they want – a trend that values life and cheers each other along toward freedom from drugs.