By Madeline Izzo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Butler County founder of an interactive drug-abuse prevention program has been asked to bring her program to Kansas City, Mo., for some national exposure.
Norma Norris, director of Candle Inc., which stands for Community Action Network for Drug-Free Lifestyle Empowerment, has been invited to be a presenter at the 31st annual Neighborhoods USA Conference in Kansas City May 24-27.
Her award-winning Reality Tour program takes 10- to 18-year-olds and their parents through the downward spiral of heroin addiction, using recorded narrative, a prison tour and staged scenes.
"We really strive to be innovative in drug-abuse prevention," Ms. Norris said.
The nonprofit Candle Inc. has developed a model for the Reality Tour that can be used in any community and is geared for groups of up to 70 people.
The tour is in various stages of development in 12 Pennsylvania communities, and the first out-of-state Reality Tour is set to start this year near Cleveland in the Painesville Township School District.
The program received the 2005 Acts of Caring Award from the national Association of Counties.
Although she was inspired to create Reality Tour when she heard about the extent of heroin-addiction while working at a local radio station in 2003, she has expanded the program to include the dangers of more than 14 drugs.
Ms. Norris' invitation to Kansas City came about through word-of-mouth and the Internet.
"Someone in Arkansas saw our Web site and spoke with somebody in Kansas City," she said.
Ms. Norris has not advertised the program, but she did give a presentation in Harrisburg for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency in December.
A community organization in Mercer County recently bought the Reality Tour, which costs $2,500 for a five-year lease, plus annual $250 updating fees.
"Once you see it, you'll never forget it. It's a very effective tool for drug awareness and prevention," said Kerry Howell, team coordinator for Target Area Local Leaders, or TALL, in Sharon and Farrell.
Ms. Howell heard about it through the Urban League and attended the tour in October. Reality Tour takes three hours and requires 24 volunteers.
"The effect it has on the children -- the emergency room scene and the funeral scene -- are so powerful," she said.
The Sharon/Farrell Weed and Seed TALL team has invited community professionals to participate in the Reality Tour on Thursday. The first tour for children is April 27 and tours are scheduled to continue monthly. Reality Tour locations include the Butler YWCA, the Allegheny County Jail, Wayne County Honesdale YMCA, Armstrong County Jail in Kittanning, Bedford County Jail, Lawrence County Government Center in New Castle and Ellwood City municipal building.
So far, 34 tours have been given, and in Butler County alone, more than 2,000 people have taken the tour.
"People get very emotional. We show the consequences [of drug addiction]. I don't believe anyone cannot believe the consequences after seeing this program," Ms. Norris said.
Candle Inc. received funding from the state Department of Community and Economic Development last year for a three-year initiative to reach fifth-graders.
"We want to be able to serve every fifth-grade student in Pennsylvania," Ms. Norris said.
She said she hopes to start the program for fifth-graders this summer or fall.