Student actors deliver message on drug abuse – March 8, 2011

BADEN – The evening began with a teenage girl from Beaver inviting friends to a gathering that promised “party favors” for everyone. It ended with a Blackhawk varsity football jacket draped across an open coffin.

Party favors?

“Drugs and alcohol. Don’t be stupid.”

“People get messed up from that stuff.”

“That’s movie crap.”

“I guess one time couldn’t hurt.”

A Beaver County deputy escorted a boy from Baden, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, hands cuffed behind his back, and then doctors from Heritage Valley Beaver abandoned resuscitation efforts on a Blackhawk athlete as a young girl companion shrieked in agony.

“I don’t feel a pulse,” Dr. Uyly Yukio said before pronouncing the time of death at “1900 hours.”

One night in Baden.

The “Reality Tour” touched down Monday evening at the former Mt. Gallitzin Academy building and dragged more than 35 people, mostly parents and teenagers, through a 90-minute journey intended to mirror the realities of adolescent drug abuse. The presentation mixed stark video documentary elements with a poignant audio drama and a talk with District Judge Tim Finn.

But the most compelling segments were the vignettes presented by students from the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School and members of the Beaver County community who deal daily with the ramifications of drug and alcohol abuse.

“It’s something that hits me in a powerful way because it is happening to kids our age,” Samantha Split, a Lincoln Park freshman from Beaver, said after her “party favor” peer pressure performance. “It has a lot of meaning to it.”

Split was the aggressor in the opening episode, but says she drew from her experience as the target of other kids promoting drug use.

“I know how it feels,” she said.

The presentation was produced by Beaver County Behavioral Health and directed by Kate Lichius. It has been presented twice during the 2010-2011 school year, and will be staged again in May.

“(The Reality Tour) focuses on the consequences of substance abuse,” Lichius said.

The Lincoln Park students brought the consequences to life and death.

During the video presentation, Alex Gorski, a sophomore from Baden, was pulled from the group and handcuffed by a county detective. Later, he was led down a hall to cell-like room with other boys – some older, some younger – in orange jumpsuits.

“I hope that never happens to me,” Gorski said. “The first time we did it, it was so scary. I would never want to be that person. Don’t do drugs. Be smart. It’s frightening to think about what could happen.”

In another scene, Mersedez Hoover, a freshman from Beaver, stood and watched as the doctors work fervently, but unsuccessfully, to resuscitate her cousin. She then stood next to the coffin and accepted condolences with her cousin’s parents.

“Honestly, if anything like that happened to anyone I knew, I would be terrified,” she said. “It’s scary because it’s real.”

The funeral home scene led everyone past the casket, past the varsity jacket and baseball glove, to a mirror propped on the pillow. It carried a message, “Don’t let this happen to you.”

“It has a very powerful message,” Split said. “And the scary part is that you know it won’t change everybody.”

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