Touching More Young Lives
It’s an overcast Thursday afternoon when most 6th graders might otherwise be checked out of school, gazing outdoors daydreaming of the minute the dismissal bell rings.
Instead in this slightly cramped Danville elementary classroom, 6th graders are agog, eagerly engaged in what the instructor at the head of the room asks them.
“Imagine your dream car,” she says and young toothy smiles erupt across the room. Then she cautions them they can have the car of their dreams, but that it will be the only car that they’ll ever have. “Choose wisely,” she urges them.
With dream cars envisioned, she then asks them what they would do to care for their cars. Hands shoot up and answers are shouted out. “I’ll only put good gas in it!” “I’ll wash it every day and keep it very clean.” “I won’t let anyone else drive it.”
And at just the right time, Viviana Jimenez, a Prevention Specialist on the Prairie Center team, outlines the comparison of their dream cars to the students’ own bodies. The room quiets a bit as the 6th graders process the analogy, then slowly you see their faces light up. “If you wouldn’t let anyone else drive your dream car,” Viviana asks them, “why would you let someone else make a decision for your own body? You only get one, after all.”
It’s a simple, but very powerful, lesson for these youngsters. And it’s how our team of trained Prevention Specialists like Viviana break the ice in getting the youth in our communities’ classrooms to open up and talk about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Viviana and her Prevention colleagues bring hard-hitting lessons like this to classrooms of all ages every day each week throughout the school year. Using binders filled with creative curriculum, engaging worksheets, and interactive role-playing scenarios, the team visit the region’s classrooms regularly to ensure our community’s youth have the tools, skills, and education they need to make smart choices.
And beyond just learning about drugs and alcohol, the curriculum and lessons also help kids learn important strategies to handle a wide range of situations that arise in school, in friend and family relationships, and in life in general.
The work the Prairie Center Prevention Team does is incredibly valuable. Changing young lives is critical because for nine out of ten people with a substance use disorder, their use began in adolescence.
“It’s a lot easier — and more cost effective — to help kids avoid problems when they are younger than to treat substance abuse issues later as adults,” says Prairie Center’s Director of Prevention & Education Rachael Blosser. “For each dollar invested in our youth prevention work, we save as much as $20 in treatment, law enforcement, and health costs.”
With the help of United Way of Danville Area, the Champaign County Mental Health Board, and the Illinois Department of Human Services, our Prevention Team has touched the lives of nearly 6,000 students across east central Illinois each year. This year, the Department of Human Services increased their investment in our work, providing additional funding for work in Vermilion County where drug and alcohol problems are among the state’s highest.
“Now we can touch more young lives,” says Blosser. “And any day we can help a child make a different and better choice is a great day.”