– Butler Eagle – October 29, 2007
Over 1,500 Butler County parents ‘get it’. They understand their role in drug prevention and brought their children to the Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program, sitting beside them as members of the Drug Task Force told how drugs are robbing families of a future and burdening a community with crime. These parents stood close by their child in the Reality Tour’s ER and funeral scene – scenes all too real for too many families. They listened as an addict in recovery answered pointed questions during this 3-hr intense comprehensive program. Over 3100 parents and children have attended Butler Reality Tours, conducted by the local non-profit CANDLE, Inc., since July 2003. Youth surveys reveal that 88% experience an increase and new ease in discussions with their parents about drugs after attending the Reality Tour. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the increased discussions can increase the child’s prevention protection factor by 75%. Drug abuse has permeated all populations and statistics show that 1 in 4 American families has a member struggling with addiction.
Now local school districts ‘get it’ too. Schools have long felt that parents need to be more involved in prevention. Five of the seven Butler school districts responded to CANDLE’s invitation to participate in Reality Tour Prevention Initiative partnerships. Through the partnerships districts are dedicating entire grade levels, typically 6th grade, to the Reality Tour experience and encouraging parents to attend the evening program with their child. South Butler, Mars, Karns City, Moniteau and Slippery Rock School Districts are encouraging parents to accompany their child to the monthly program’s ‘walk in the life and death of a teen on drugs’. South Butler School District’s 6th grade was the successful pilot for the program in 2006. The district’s students and parents were enthusiastic about participating and several continue as volunteers for the program. Assistant Principal Richard Cavett says Knoch Middle School is pleased with the results of the Prevention Initiative and “Students indicate that the Reality Tour has had a significant impact on them and their decisions not to use illegal drugs or alcohol. Many parents have been very impressed with the program as well.” Cavett indicated the South Butler School District hopes to have a long partnership with the Reality Tour”.
Norma Norris, executive director of CANDLE, Inc. and originator of the Reality Tour, explains the ongoing partnerships with the 6th grade in district schools have an eye to the future, “In coming years a greater percentage of each participating school’s upper grades will have experienced a powerful prevention message to impact lifestyle choices”. Statistics gathered from youth surveys show that 80% leave the Reality Tour committed to remain drug-free. Norris feels that by reaching this impressionable target population, the prevention message has an opportunity to gain traction among students who will share their Reality Tour experience in school and social settings. There are residual effects for parents as well, and in coming years it is hoped that the ‘Tour’ will become accepted as a ‘rite of passage’ in Butler County.
To handle the anticipated response from schools, CANDLE has opened Reality Tour sites at Slippery Rock University and Mars Home for Youth, while continuing the monthly presentation at the original YWCA location in downtown Butler. A grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation helped to establish the two new sites. The foundation also funded the research undertaken by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy in preparation for the Reality Tour’s submission as an evidence-based program.
Norris is quick to credit the community of Butler itself for the success of the volunteer-driven program and its replication in 16 other PA counties. The County of Butler, local law enforcement, ambulance providers, health professionals, agencies, as well as youth and adult volunteers from the community-at-large are where credit belongs according to her, and the reason why the program was given the national ‘Acts of Caring Award’ on Capitol Hill in 2005.