A Taste of Pittsburgh Magazine
In 2000 when heroin made headlines in Butler, PA there weren’t any prevention programs to help parents. Since 2003 a grassroots parent/child interactive program called Reality Tour has filled that gap. You may have never heard of it because the small non-profit CANDLE, Inc. (Community Action for Drug-free Lifestyle Empowerment), that oversees Reality Tour can’t afford to advertise.
Reality Tour is the brainchild of Norma Norris, a lifelong Butler resident. After learning that high school students were experimenting with heroin and other drugs, Norma became extremely concerned. She interviewed a teen, whose best friend was addicted. The young man shared that he didn’t get caught up in drugs because he could always “See beyond the next 10 minutes” of his life. Norris couldn’t get that phrase out of her mind. The teen’s recognition that his life was about choices resonated with her. Norma came up with Reality Tour as a way to help all young people and parents ‘See beyond the next 10 minutes’. The program is fast-paced and intense, addressing ill-fated consequences in brief yet realistic scenes, teaching family coping skills and ending in a Q & A session with a teen in recovery. All is condensed in a powerful 2 ½ hr. session.
Most of us already know educated parents are the most powerful prevention tool. This program adds extra impact, by including children. The whole family leaves on the same page. Reality Tour’s profound effect is best expressed by a dad who exclaimed, “These could be the most important hours I ever spend with my son” and a 12-yr. old who wrote, “I am leaving here a different person. I didn’t know drugs are that bad!” Seneca Valley School District is in their 6th year of partnership with Reality Tour. Superintendent Dr. Tracey Vitale repeatedly hears parents praise the program and is confident that it is a “deterrent in this never-ending battle.” Norris adds that, “Strong school partnerships are key to our success.”
Rarely does a grassroots effort, such as Reality Tour go mainstream, but a 2007 grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation, funded research by the University of Pittsburgh that took it from grassroots to science. The recipient of two national awards, Reality Tour is now a research-based program model that any community can adopt to help families “See beyond the next 10 minutes.” It could be an answer to Pennsylvania’s newly proposed prevention strategy that seeks innovation, “Service clubs like Rotary and Lions could blanket our state with this prevention model in a year at no cost to state government.”
Westmoreland County leads with six sites, thanks in part to the Norwin Lions Club, Latrobe Rotary, Mt. Pleasant Judge Roger Eckels & ‘Mayor of the Year’ Jerry Lucia, Pastor Dan Lawrence of Murrysville, and residents Mary Ann Musick and Celeste Palamara. In Elk County, Lois Cheatle single-handedly raised $3500 this year to start the program. Allegheny County’s first site just started in Glassport. Butler County has 2 sites. An Alcoa Foundation grant supported development of six sites. Norris is on a mission to add Greene, Fayette and Washington Counties next.
Reality Tour has grown beyond a grassroots movement to include replicated sites in six other states and Canada impacting over 50,000 people. The website http://www.RealityTour.org lists all locations.
Funding is scarce, yet CANDLE needs a way to inspire more Reality Tours and conduct the next layer of research. “I know a sponsor could take this statewide or even nationwide. A university could step up to do the next layer of research.” In the meantime, CANDLE’s immediate goal is to attract a base of 100 monthly credit card donors via their website http://www.RealityTour.org. It is fitting that while CANDLE is ‘spreading its wings’ their office is located in Monarch Place 100 Brugh Ave. in Butler.
TO VOLUNTEER OR START A PROGRAM: 724-679-1788 · NormaNorris@candleinc.org.
CANDLE, Inc. gratefully acknowledges the support of Russell Cersosimo who made this article possible.