TRIBLIVE – Oct. 23, 2013
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
The inaugural Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour on Oct. 31 will bring Westmoreland County to the forefront of one of America’s fastest-growing drug prevention initiatives, according to Norma Norris, executive director of CANDLE Inc., a Butler-based nonprofit which developed the event.
The tour will be the latest in the national program, for children ages 10 and up and their parents, that features real stories and scenarios from people affected by drugs and alcohol.
It is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 31 at Rumbaugh Elementary School in the borough, and it will be held the second Thursday of each month thereafter, with the next one slated to take place Nov. 14.
“Westmoreland County is shaping up to be the model county for drug prevention,” Norris said.
Area volunteers, law enforcement officials and civic leaders have brought the local version of the Reality Tour to fruition at three sites throughout the county — the most of any county throughout the nation, Norris said.
The other sites are at the Westmoreland County Courthouse and Norwin High School.
“We’re in 10 other states and a dozen Pennsylvania counties, and Westmoreland now will have the most Reality Tours of any county … period,” Norris said. “It’s been a natural evolution to open the Norwin tour, and now, Mt. Pleasant.”
In late 2012, Mt. Pleasant Mayor Jerry Lucia and Norvelt District Judge Roger F. Eckels, in partnership with Scottdale District Judge Charles Moore, spoke with Norris about what it would take to start a version of the Reality Tour to for area youth and parents.
“In the last two years, there have been so many problems with young adults and drugs,” Lucia said. “We want to be a part of helping to curb that and keep the numbers down, not from going up.”
The tour held at the county courthouse had become so popular since its inception in 2007 that today there is a six-month wait for registrants to take part, Norris said.
“In the beginning, I drove from Butler to deliver the program at the Greensburg courthouse sometimes to only 15 to 20 people,” Norris said. “Now we have parents understanding that every child is at risk.”
Since spring, a committee of volunteers including members of Mt. Pleasant Borough Council, Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisors and Mt. Pleasant Area School District have been meeting monthly to bring the local tour to fruition.
“Things are moving ahead very well. The participation is really amazing, with the number of people showing up and donating their time to this effort,” Eckels said. “We’re looking forward to making it one of the best Reality Tours in the state.”
The event will convey a powerful, emotional message to those attending, according to Mt. Pleasant Township’s John Hostoffer, a retired Westmoreland County Prison lieutenant and president of Mt. Pleasant Area Drug Awareness Inc. “It’ll have an effect not only on young people, but also parents, it’s going to be very intense; a wake-up call for the kids, there’s going to be some emotional reactions,” Hostoffer said. “We really went over and above with everything we did involving this to get the message out about how bad drugs can be.”
Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisor Frank Puskar said he thinks the tour will prove to be a valuable local resource for drug awareness among the area’s youth.
“The youth are the future of our community, and we need to get these kids aware of the dangers of drugs. We care about our youth and we care about our community,” Puskar said.
Additional volunteers who have stepped forward to help develop the local tour represent a cross-section of area communities, Eckels said.
“You have all walks of life involved,” he said.
That also includes area teens, including members of the Students Against Destructive Decisions clubs and drama clubs at both Mt. Pleasant Area and Southmoreland senior high schools, and residents who all care about conveying the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, Eckels said.
“It (the tour) is going to open up the lines of communication between the parents and the children,” he said.
Regarding the nationwide prominence which the Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour will enable for the county, Lucia and Eckels both expressed pride.
“That’s really a proud token for us,” Lucia said.
Eckels said such a development “speaks volumes.”
“That speaks a lot to the citizens of our county,” he said. “I give my hats off to the borough officials, the township officials and the school district officials, along with all the other volunteers.”
Eckels specifically cited several individuals whose talents have been invaluable in the development the Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour, including:
- Rumbaugh Elementary Principal Lance Benteler (provision of school use)
- Tour co-directors Jamie Hause and Kelsey Landy
- Mt. Pleasant Township Secretary Caprice Mills (event pre-registration)
- St. Vincent College Prevention Projects Executive Director Donna Kean
- Westmoreland Courthouse Reality Tour volunteer director Sharron Prettiman
- Norwin Reality Tour co-directors Gina and Keith Davis.
In addition, many others donated countless hours of their time to develop and prepare this tour, Eckels said.
“It would be nice to acknowledge all the volunteers, the councilmen and councilwomen, the township supervisors, nurses, police officers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and leaders, secretaries and retirees.”
Preceding the first Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour is Red Ribbon Week, a campaign against drugs which began Wednesday and runs through Oct. 31, Eckels said.
For more information on pre-registration for the inaugural tour, contact Caprice Mills by phone at 724-423-5653 or in person at the Mt. Pleasant Township municipal building at 208 Poker Road in Mammoth.
The Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour registration application is also available at mtpleasanttwp.com, Mills said.
“There are still spots available for Oct. 31, but they’re going fast,” Eckels said.
Norris — who hopes to expand to even more county sites going forward — is confident the Mt. Pleasant event will go a long way toward drug and alcohol abuse prevention among the area’s youth, she said.
“It takes people saying, ‘We’re not going to hand over our community to the drug dealers,’” she said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.