Youth learn, share anti-drug message

<p>High school students Hannah Deming and Wade Cates visited Capitol Hill during their time spent at a Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America conference in Washington, D.C., along with Grant County Safe Communities Coalition representatives. From left, Deming, Russ Comer, Heather Rookstool and Wade Cates.</p>

JOHN DAY – Two Grant Union Junior-Senior High School students spent a week in Washington, D.C., this month at a national conference learning ways to get to the root of drug problems in their community and how to solve those issues.

The Mt. Vernon residents – Wade Cates, a junior, and Hannah Deming, a freshman – said the experience was motivating as they continue work with the school’s Youth Coalition.

“It was really empowering to know that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference,” Cates said.

The students were selected by Grant County Safe Communities Coalition board members to go based on their involvement in the Youth Coalition, and the trip was funded by the organization’s Drug-Free Communities grant.

AmeriCorps member Heather Rookstool and Safe Communities program manager Russ Comer of Canyon City also went to the Feb. 6-9 conference and attended workshops with the students, including the National Youth Leadership Initiative, an intensive leadership training for youth.

Classes kept the group busy from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. They visited Capitol Hill one day and met with the chiefs of staff for Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, sharing their desire for drug and alcohol prevention classes at schools.

Cates interns for Safe Communities at the Grant County Commission on Children and Families office at the Grant County Courthouse, and spent a year on the commission’s board. This school year he stepped into a leadership role with the Youth Coalition, creating PowerPoints for the meetings and helping to organize activities for the group.

Deming said she joined the coalition this year because she wants to get involved.

“I like the message,” she said, “and I want to help prevent drug abuse.”

At the conference, the students were among 250 other youth learning the “Strategic Prevention Framework,” which Deming said is a way to address issues of drug abuse by figuring out the root of the problem.

One local issue Deming and Cates see as a problem in Grant County is favorable attitudes among teens toward smoking marijuana.

“There’s a low perception of risk due to the Oregon medical marijuana program,” Deming said. Availability is another problem, she said, because of the amounts people with marijuana cards are allowed to keep on hand.

“People think everyone is doing it, so they feel like the odd one out if they’re not doing it,” she said. “Really, 82 percent of students in Grant County aren’t using marijuana.”

That number comes from the 2010 Oregon Student Wellness Survey of county 11th-graders. The state percentage is 75.7 reporting no use of marijuana in the past 30 days. For county eighth-graders the number was even higher for no use at 94.9 percent, compared with 87.6 in the state.

Cates said he learned more effective ways that youth can help solve problems in prevention.

“You don’t just change the problem head on,” he said, “but change the environment that is causing the problem.”

He said this includes sharing the consequences of drug and alcohol use, educating retailers, and speaking up. People should say something if they know someone is going to contribute to minors, he said.

“My main mission with the impact of drugs and alcohol is to let youth know that they can break the cycle,” Cates said. “They don’t have to take part in the same activities that they have been around their whole life.”

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