I have a confession. Sometimes I dream about a perfect world. In this perfect world we would live in an environment where the grass mows itself, the neighbors make just enough noise so that we know they are there, but not enough to bother us. In this perfect world there is no traffic and no construction to cause angry drivers (and I’m certainly not one of them, not me), there are no commercials to interrupt the suspense of my television programs, no lines at the grocery store- and especially not at theme parks. There are no bullies inflicting pain, or in pain for that matter. Our kids don’t struggle with substances or alcohol in this perfect world either. But alas, we don’t live in a perfect world; just ask our high school and middle school youth.
In the spring, I attended two assemblies held at Monticello Middle School and Monticello High School, co-sponsored by IMPACT Coalition, and the speaker, Nadine Machkovech, posed a couple of questions to the students. “How many of you know someone who struggles with addiction?” About three fourths of the students stood up at both schools. She then asked, “How many of you think that there is a problem with substance use in your community?” Almost all of the students stood up or raised hands in both schools. To specify even more, “How many of you think there is a problem with substance use in your school?” Again, almost all of the students stood up or raised hands in both schools. It was powerful.
“It is our mission that unites us: we all want to eradicate adolescent drug use in our community.” In February of 2019, Katie LeJeune and Theresa Laumann spoke out about underage substance use and the ability to employ prevention efforts through the IMPACT Coalition that the Drug Free Communities Grant funds.
Substance use prevention is a necessity, though it can be a difficult conversation to have. We are fortunate to have the ability to move forward with such efforts in Monticello, Illinois. Recently IMPACT Coalition launched three communication campaigns that will run from February 2019 until late October 2019. Our focus is to help middle school aged students understand the risks associated with underaged drinking as well as to help high school aged students understand the risks of marijuana use. We will also focus on educating parents on the harm of supplying high school aged students with alcohol. So far, we have seen success with several of our campaigns, including billboards featuring some of the data provided by students, educational posters in the schools, and assemblies for Monticello High School and Monticello Middle School featuring educational storyteller Nadine Machkovech.
Part of prevention is coming together as a community and recognizing that though we may be seeing a problem now or warning signs pointing to a developing problem, we can come up with solutions today. Our youth deserve our attention and substance use prevention efforts.
IMPACT Coalition is very fortunate to have many dedicated, passionate youth on the coalition. Today we are fortunate to hear from one young woman, Avery Oberheim, who has chosen to focus her time and talent toward substance use prevention efforts. Avery is currently in high school and has proven to be exceptionally insightful in the field of prevention, noting that substance use is the symptom to an array of root causes. Avery serves on Lifesaver’s, a group that focuses on mental health, suicide awareness, and anti-bullying, as well as IMPACT Coalition. Avery works on the High School Youth campaign and provides feedback on what the most beneficial material to reach high school youth might be. Once the marketing materials have launched Avery, along with other high school youth, reports on what responses from her peers have looked like. Avery accomplishes all of this and more while on the Monticello High School softball team. IMPACT Coalition is very proud to have this young woman on our team.
Q&A with Avery
Some people are born with leadership skills, some develop leadership skills, and some prefer to follow others. When we come across a true young leader that has the ability to balance multiple engagements, sit at the table with influential members of the community with confidence, and present ideas and findings with poise- that’s special. Young leaders have the ability to inspire members of the community to move forward and have a perspective that brings a freshness to the mission. In Monticello, Illinois, we have the privilege of working with a young woman who is a youth leader. While still in high school, Avery Oberheim knows she has a voice, and furthermore, that her voice can make an IMPACT in preventing her peers from using drugs and alcohol. Check out this interview with Avery- a young woman who is making waves in mental health, suicide awareness, anti-bullying, and alcohol/substance use prevention.
Q. How would you describe your hometown, Monticello?
A. I would describe my hometown, Monticello, Illinois as a small, tight-knit community that prides itself on safety, education, and community involvement. It’s a place where there is a familiar face around every corner and someone to help you out in a time of need.
Q. What is the best part about living here?
A. To me, one of the best things about living in Monticello is living in a community that is willing to support each other. For example, people in Monticello support small businesses, attend school events such as athletics, plays, concerts, etc., and are willing to support people/families in a time of need.
Q. What improvements would you like to see locally in 5-10 years?
A. I would actually love to see more entertainment places in town for kids, teenagers, adults, and families. Although we are a small town I think we can improve on the number of things to do without having to travel out of town.
Q. What is it like to be a teen right now. Walk me through i
A. Being a teen right now is very BUSY! And can be very stressful as well. There are a lot of expectations riding on us. Not only is there school, but there is homework, studying, sports, extracurriculars, jobs, and keeping up with things at home. It is a very exciting, yet overwhelming time.
Q. What do your peers, in the high school seem to be struggling with the most?
A. The things that most teens seem to be struggling with is meeting expectations. Expectations to get good grades, excel in sports, be involved, have a job, and so much more. . . sometimes that pressure can be very overwhelming and heavy. I’m afraid that some of my peers will begin to struggle and any underlying depression, anxiety, or self-doubt will come to the surface and leave them feeling alone and afraid.
Q. What has been your experience with your peers using substances?
A Usually, the people who struggle with substance abuse are those that struggle with more than just that. I think that drugs and alcohol are used to cover up underlying issues that need to have more attention brought to them. I also hear the line, “my friends are doing it, so I’m going to do it.” I think that by educating more students, we will hear less of that. Substance abuse isn’t something that just happens in a week. It is an issue that is built up by a lot of many different things going on in someone’s life.
Q. Tell me about your decision to join the I.M.P.A.C.T. Coalition.
A. I decided to join the IMPACT coalition because I want to help. I want to help my fellow peers, students, and friends. If I can positively influence one life as a result of my involvement, the decision was the right one to make.
Q. In your opinion, what might be the benefits of youth being included in groups such as I.M.P.A.C.T.?
A. By including youth in groups such as IMPACT, others are able to get first-hand feedback and knowledge about the real-life experiences and struggles that today’s youth faces. We can keep it real and offer strategies for how to best reach kids and spread information.
Q. When it comes to educating and encouraging youth to understand the risks associated with underage drug use- what do you think are the best tools for helping youth to know the facts?
A. I think the best tools for helping educate students is by finding reliable statistics and bringing in guest speakers. Both of which our community has done an amazing job doing. By hearing someone’s raw story, it is able to put student’s in perspective to how dangerous drug use can be.
Q. What goals have you set for yourself?
My main goal in life is to help others. Whether that be physically, mentally, socially. . . anything I can do, I will. In the future, I wish to work with kids in the medical field. To me, there is no better feeling than seeing someone reach their own goal or being the one to help them along the way.
Q. How do you think you’ll leave a mark on this planet? (Think big and/or small)!
A One small step at a time. I may not be able to change the world in one day, but I can change a life. I can be the person to step up and help. I can and will be the person to help someone in a time of need. I will make my mark by helping others and I hope that others will do the same.
Q. You spoke of many important topics including the pressure of meeting high expectations, the undercurrent below addictions, the support available in Monticello, and the importance of focusing on small steps toward big victories. If you could get a message to all teens right now, what would that message be?
A. If I could say something to all teens it would be to keep going and never be afraid to ask for help. The only way things will get better, whether that be substance abuse, mental health, or simply just feeling overwhelmed, is by asking for help. Also, that just because a friend says or does something doesn’t mean you have to as well. I believe that our generation can move mountains if we do the right thing.