FROM READERS: Safe and Sober sensitizes teenagers to dangers of alcohol

Sunday, March 9, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

MU student Garrett Adams has been a contract speaker for the statewide program Safe and Sober since 2013. The program explains the myriad dangers and risks associated with underage drinking to students and had them sign a contract asking them not to imbibe until they turn 21.

One day as a freshman in high school I walked into Spanish on some arbitrary autumn day and remember the energy in the room to be tense and heavy. Come to find out, there had been a wreck and one of the prettiest senior girls had been found unconscious and strapped in the passenger seat of a flipped truck. Her jaw was broken and she was in the hospital. Living in a town where people generally knew one another’s business, I quickly heard through the grapevine that she had been abandoned by a group of her friends because they were driving drunk. The beautiful young lady that so many boys my age ogled over had been left to die by her friends because they were afraid to get in trouble. Recalling this situation to this day makes my heart heavy, leaden. In my mind, alcohol immediately became attached to blatant disregard for loyalty, friendship and life itself. Examples like this with negative effects of alcohol left a bad taste in my mouth.

My school participated in the Safe and Sober program. The goal of the contract students had to sign was to open a dialogue at home so that parents would get on board and support their child staying sober. I remember the excitement around school when it came time for the contracts because the school with the most signed contracts was given a large sum of money to put toward their prom. My class won the year I went to prom, and we rented out the top floor of the tallest, ritziest building in my city. It was such an awesome time and wouldn’t have been possible had we not won the contest. The sense of appreciation, and the methods that Safe and Sober used to reach students, inspired me to get involved.

I jumped at the opportunity to help with the program's efforts again, and this time I had to develop a middle school program. I was given pamphlets for the teachers and all the support my high school had to offer. How in the world was I supposed to talk to every middle school student in the seven middle schools that feed into my high school? Talking to teens about alcohol is not always easy like the first visit of my team and me to a middle school showed. The teacher looked stressed out, and the kids looked apathetic. Various kids quickly interrupted us laughing when we told them they were worth something. When we said they could be whatever they wanted, one girl actually choked on the water she was drinking. Shocked and somewhat hurt, I asked her what was so funny. This seventh grade girl was laughing at something meant to be empowering, and I had no idea why. She explained that her path of drinking and drugs was already paved, and she knew she wasn’t going to get into college, not that she wanted to anyway. I looked back at my teammates; this was not something I had prepared them for. Our presentation went out the window when I realized that we had a much bigger issue. Some of these kids were already resigned to their fate of alcoholism or addiction because they believed they were worthless. My team and I switched gears, and tried our best to explain that every person has value, even themselves. We tried to show them that someone cares about them whether they see it or not. It was brutal seeing the looks on some of their faces when we told them that; the kids looked surprised.

After that day of presentations, we had to completely rebuild. Instead of the fire and brimstone that is juvenile detention we focused on showing kids that it wasn’t too late to make them into what they wanted to be. It is silly to think that middle school kids are already condemned to whatever path they are on, that it is too late to change. I remember thinking at the time that high school was the point where your path is set, and now I am in college and that seems ignorant. It is never too late to change; my involvement in Safe and Sober taught me that. It also brought to light the issue of value. How can they achieve their goals if they don’t respect themselves enough to not make decisions that could alter the course of their lives negatively, forever? Without that program I would not have recognized this problem in others or myself. We have reached more than 100,000 students in high school alone, and are in over 150 schools. I can’t help but hope that Safe and Sober has changed someone’s life like it has mine.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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