Westmoreland Co. – For the past 8 years the Hempfield School District has placed an emphasis on educating families about drug prevention through partnership with the
nonprofit CANDLE, Inc.’s Reality Tour. At 6th grade orientation this Thursday, the district’s
three middle school schools will make an appeal to parents to take their child to one of the monthly programs held at the courthouse where families learn together about the consequences of experimentation and also learn home prevention skills. In addition the district will provide access to a free home drug test kit via CANDLE’s Family Health Policy at orientation.
In May, Harrold Middle School Principal Jason Lochner’s remarks to parents on their need to experience Reality Tour inspired one parent, Mr. ‘Riz’ Rizvi. to add a new layer to prevention. As the general manager of Toyota of Greensburg, he worked with CANDLE, Inc’s Executive Director Norma Norris to maximize prevention for Hempfield families and cover the $6 registration fee, plus include a drawing for $500 in gift cards, and a $1500 grant for the middle school with the best attendance at Reality Tour. Toyota of Greensburg’s radio and TV spots now rotate a message for Reality Tour. When asked why he stepped forward, Mr. Rizvi stated simply, “It’s the right thing to do.“
Reality Tour has expanded to six sites in the county to reach over 1400 annually. Sites are: City of Greensburg, Latrobe, Norwin, Belle Vernon, Mt. Pleasant and Murrysville. The volunteer-driven program has even been included as curriculum in the Belle Vernon School District- effectively doubling attendance and leaving parents with the feeling, as expressed by one parent that, “These may have been the most important hours I ever spend with my child. “
Reality Tour has served 14,000+ residents to date.
School partnerships are continually being cultivated and Reality Tour Director Mary Ann Musick made an appeal to the Latrobe School District to take full advantage of the opportunity to educate families before there is a problem. She cited the overdose statistics for that community as ranking in the highest numbers for this year (6) along with Arnold and Jeannette, plus the record 193 county overdose deaths in 2017 as figures that demand attention to prevention. Mrs. Norris states, “Westmoreland County is our best example for how the community-based Reality Tour should protect and serve families. We simply must help our children navigate today’s environment to avoid risk. “ She recalled one child stating, ‘I am leaving here a different person, I didn’t know drugs were that bad!’”
Reality Tour started eleven years ago at the courthouse location with a handful of volunteers, collaborative agencies and professionals – many still help at the monthly program. The intervention originated in Butler County in 2003. Research by the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy vouch for the outcomes. In all there are 18 replications of Reality Tour in the state with 40,000+ residents attending. Communities in 5 other states and Canada have embraced the grassroots approach to prevention.