The Roaring Run Lions Club and the Carroll County Health Department are gearing up for this year's National Prevention Week and the week's kickoff event on May 14, which this year pulls in community youth to help combat drug and alcohol abuse.
National Prevention Week, which runs May 13 through 19 this year, is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and works to increase public awareness of and action around mental health and substance use disorders, according to a news release from the Carroll County Health Department. The theme this year is "Action Today. Healthier Tomorrow."
The kickoff event is on May 14 at the Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. and the program starting at 6 p.m., according to the release. The substance abuse prevention event will include information booths, speakers and free food.
This year, it will also feature the premiere of the Manchester Valley girls basketball team's "Dear Future Me" video, Linda Auerback, substance abuse prevention supervisor with the Carroll County Health Department, said.
Heather DeWees, coach of the Manchester Valley girls basketball team, said doing this campaign as a team will, hopefully, serve as an inspiration to younger kids in the community, other teens and other athletes.
"[This video says] you know you don't have to do those things and you can be successful without it," she said.
It can help because the girls involved can be positive role models for others who are being pressured to drink or use drugs, she said, because it lets them know other kids their age are saying no.
"I'm extremely proud of all 11 kids," DeWees said, adding that she knows it's not always easy to say no.
DeWees said participating in the campaign was completely voluntary, and said it's the "biggest victory" she's had as a coach to say all 11 girls are drug- and alcohol-free.
Mackenzie DeWees, a senior at Manchester Valley and a senior captain on the team, said she wanted to be a part of of the campaign because she loves to help the community and wanted to be a role model.
"Its our job to help shape the younger kids in our community," said the four-time Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Mackenzie DeWees said it's important to get the message out that they shouldn't be drinking or using drugs, and it's important to make the right choices.
Kassidy Johnson, a sophomore at the school and a member of the varsity team, said it "feels really good" to be a part of the campaign and to help youth in the community to make better decisions.
Johnson said she wants to let people know you don't have to give in to peer pressure to be cool.
"You don't have to be into those things," she said.
For those who want to participate in the "Dear Future Me" campaign, youth can work individually or as a group to write a letter, telling their future selves what they are doing today to ensure a healthier tomorrow, according to the release. They can then read the letter at the event or film themselves reading the letter and submit the video to be shown at the event.
For information about the event and how to participate, and to watch a locally-created "Dear Future Me" video, visit cchd.maryland.gov/drugawareness. For more examples of "Dear Future Me" videos, visit www.samhsa.gov/prevention-week/materials/videos. Videos and letters must be received by May 9 and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Community service hours are available for any student who participates in the event.
Auerback said every year they work especially hard during National Prevention Week to make people aware of substance abuse prevention and mental health.
"It's just education and awareness," she said.
Many people don't always realize each county has a prevention office with free services, she said. Prevention Week is a chance for them to learn, and acts as a celebration of prevention, she said.
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The week, and the campaign, are important for both adults and kids, she said. Adults need to know what kids are facing out there, she said, because kids are often tempted and pressured to use drugs or to drink.
"The bottom line is, the younger you start using a substance, the quicker you're going to become addicted," she added.
And this video, showing youth in the community who are making smart choices, helps give kids a positive role model, she said. As adults, Auerback said, they can preach all they want, but if the message comes from their peers, it means more.
"We want to give our youth a voice," she added.