DARRINGTON — The teens came back from the East Coast with ideas they hope will help them steer others away from drugs.
Six members of the Darrington Youth Coalition attended the national leadership forum for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America Institute in February. The three-day event was hosted near Washington, D.C., and they spent time in the nation’s capital.
The students attended classes about drug use prevention and intervention, many focused on the opioid epidemic affecting communities around the country. They met with U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene. She expressed interest in visiting Darrington sometime for one of their youth events. They planned to watch the U.S. Congress in action, but the federal government shut down that day. They explored instead.
The youth coalition focuses on providing opportunities for young people and preventing alcohol and drug abuse. Teens in the group have gone to statewide conferences in the past, but this was the first trip to the national event. With the current focus in Snohomish County on addressing the opioid epidemic, Darrington’s youth were eager to bring back new information and inspiration.
Freshman Morgen Schoneman and juniors Maxwell Pickard and Evan Couch attended the forum.
“It was fantastic,” said Pickard, 17. “It was a completely different experience for me.”
They swapped ideas with people from all over the country. It gave them a broader perspective, they said. They learned how prevalent opioid abuse has become.
They talked mostly about prevention. It’s easier to help prevent someone from abusing prescription painkillers, heroin or other drugs than it is to help them recover from addiction, they said.
“Leadership plays a big role in prevention,” Couch said. “Younger kids look up to us.”
By showing enthusiasm for activities such as sports, theater, music and other extracurriculars, they set an example of what to do in a small town, instead of drugs or alcohol.
That example needs to be set early, Couch said.
“A lot of prevention has focused on high school,” he said. “But we really want to hammer that message in for middle school students.”
Couch, 17, said sports is his main outlet after school, and Schoneman, 15, is an athlete, too. Pickard helps manage high school teams and acts in drama club.
They’re inspired after the forum to revamp their coalition. They want to change the theme every few years. They’ve been using the motto “Step Up” for a while, and it might be time to find something catchier.
They also aim to get more of their peers involved. The coalition has several dozen members, about 20 to 25 of whom are regularly involved in events. The core group is talking about forming a welcome committee for new students.
“Our community is so small … when somebody does something, it has a really big impact,” Couch said. “If we can set a strong foundation for the next few generations, we can really make a difference.”
North Counties Family Services is the nonprofit tied to the Darrington Youth Coalition. The coalition is part of a larger community effort geared toward prevention and intervention. The trip to the national forum was paid for with a combination of grants, coalition funds and, for Pickard, a scholarship.
Two adult chaperones joined the students, including program manager Marree Perrault.
She participated in classes and meetings for the adult mentors of the youth coalitions. It was interesting to hear people from other states talk about Washington as a place they are watching to see how legal marijuana might affect drug use in the long run.
Couch offered some advice for young people in Darrington and other towns.
“If you have the opportunity to join a coalition, definitely do it,” Couch said. “I can’t guarantee every one is as fun as ours, but I think they’re really going to make a difference in the next few years.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.
To learn more about the Darrington Youth Coalition, email firstname.lastname@example.org.