Second Drug and Violence Awareness Expo draws a crowd

The inaugural Drug and Violence Awareness Expo only ran until 4 p.m., and as such was only able to capture a handful of working parents and other adults who could not come to the event with a school class. This year, the event not only runs until 8 p.m., the biggest activities — the official ceremony and presentation by Carroll County State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo — are set to begin at 6 p.m.

When Grace Kulp, an eighth-grader at Oklahoma Road Middle School, was asked to walk the line in a field sobriety test, she thought she was being careful. After placing the drunk goggles on her face, she lined one foot in front of the other, extended her left arm to try to keep her balance, and crept forward with caution.

She failed with flying colors.


"It was awful. When I first put the goggles on, I couldn't even see that I wasn't on the line," Kulp said. "If someone asked me to step out and I was intoxicated, I would completely fail that. It's pretty crazy how people have so much confidence in themselves when they are totally distorted and reality is totally distorted."

Kulp was not alone: The entire eighth-grade class at Oklahoma Road Middle had come out to the morning sessions of the second annual Drug and Violence Awareness Expo at the Carroll County Agriculture Center's Shipley Arena on Thursday, along with students from the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, Century and Francis Scott Key high schools, and Shiloh Middle School — 14 bus loads in total.

Created and hosted by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce — and a collaboration among the local business community, law enforcement, prevention professionals, people in recovery and concerned parents — the expo is aimed at bringing the community together to grasp the reality and scope of the problems of drug abuse and domestic violence in Carroll, as well as to formulate solutions.

A large part of that is getting young people out to the event in order to learn about the risks involved in substance use, according to Joe Tabeling, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and originator of the expo. Students spent the morning hearing from health experts, parents who had lost children to drug overdoses, seeing law enforcement demonstrations and even, as Kulp had done, trying their balance in a simulated field sobriety test.

"We are excited about the number of students that are here; it's almost four times the number that we had last year," Tabeling said. "All the vendors are excited about the interactions they are having with the students and the interest that the students have in the information they provide."

Carroll County Public Schools were provided with a list of the presentations that would be held during the expo — there were speakers scheduled from when the expo opened at 10 a.m. all the way until it closed at 8 p.m. — as well as the vendor booths, which included the Carroll County Health Department, Carroll County Public Library and others. Tabeling said students were assigned to listen to certain presentations and to engage in a sort of scavenger hunt among vendors, and will be required to write a report on what they learned.

"There is a lot of interaction going on, not only because of interest, but because of requirements," he said. "We are looking at things for next year that will make it more diverse, so that it won't be a huge gigantic crowd for the first few speakers, and then hardly any for the next few."

Kulp and her classmates sat in on the very first presentation of the day, a discussion with Beth Schmidt on drug use trends in Carroll County. Schmidt is a parent activist who began speaking out about the dangers of drug addiction after the poisoning death of her son Sean in late 2013, when he relapsed and injected heroin laced with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

"When we first came in here we were listening to Beth Schmidt, and I really felt a connection there because her son went to Oklahoma Road Middle School and went to Liberty and graduated," Kulp said. "It really showed me that no matter how we think, 'Oh, it won't happen to us,' or it's not a problem, it is right around us."

Ashly DeMay, another Oklahoma Road Middle student, said she was less impressed with the information conveyed at the expo, in part because she is already aware of it, and expects others to make some dangerous life choices regarding drugs and violence.

"It's America, what do you expect from us? We aren't the safest country," DeMay said. "I feel like there is a message that needs to be received and I feel like a good amount of people are going to receive it, but there are going to be some that are so ignorant that they won't receive it and that nothing is really going to be able to get it through their thick skulls."

Stephania Billheimer, a parent of three Oklahoma Road Middle students who was acting as a chaperone for students at the expo, said she believed it was both effective and important for young people — especially middle-school-aged students — to learn about risky behaviors from experts outside the home and the schools. She was particularly impressed with one of the presentations, by CVS pharmacy supervisor Cortney Spittal, on prescription drug misuse.

"The kids need to hear it from other people," Billheimer said. "It's one thing to hear it from a teacher, or a parent, but an outside source helps them to see different things."

The inaugural Drug and Violence Awareness Expo last year only ran until 4 p.m., but this year's program was extended all the way until 8 p.m., following response and advice from the community, according to Tabeling. Some of the biggest activities, such as the official ceremony and presentation by Carroll County State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo, were scheduled for 6 p.m.


While Billheimer was only able to attend during the morning as a chaperone, she said she hoped other parents would come out for the evening hours.

"Parents have to be the first line involved. If they are not there, then the kids slip through the cracks," she said. "The schools can pick up some things but never everything. The parent has to be the first line."

By 5:30 p.m., there were a handful of families floating from exhibit to exhibit.

Doug Yeager had learned about the expo from a relative and brought his 7-year-old son, Hayden.

"I thought it would be a good chance for my son to come down and see some of the police officers and the people that protect us," Yeager said.

A recent arrival in Carroll County, having moved here from Sarasota, Florida, three years ago, Yeager said he is not all that familiar with the drug and crime issues in the area but has heard things.

"I've heard a lot of stories about the heroin," he said. "When people find out I am from Carroll County, they ask me questions, like how many people do I know?"

Michelle Mitchell, of New Windsor, had come to the event with her fiance and young daughter and said she had only learned of the expo through her mother, who was working a vending booth, but she said she liked the idea of the event.

A graduate of Westminster High School, Mitchell said that both she and her fiance know former peers from high school who have overdosed on heroin.

"It is definitely a good message. It seems like they have certain stations where you can wear drunk goggles and I think that's a good idea for people who have maybe never been in that position. To be 100 percent sober and do the things that you would do when drunk, I think that's a good perspective to have on it. I think it is good, I think more people should be here," Mitchell said. "I feel like they could have publicized it a little bit more and gotten more people to come in."


Although the number of adults in attendance at the time of the evening ceremony might not have been equal to the throng of students in the morning, there was still a crowd to watch the FoolProof Improvisational Theatre Troupe perform and to witness the program that State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo has been bringing into Carroll high schools over the past year.

DeLeonardo said he was pleased with the turnout and the event will only grow in years to come. In the end, he said, the chance to connect with the young people earlier in the day meant that everything else was just icing on the cake.

"This event is overwhelmingly about getting info out to our students and I think we had more than 600 students that came through today," he said. "That's tremendous — we don't get that opportunity to do that very often. That was my huge takeaway."


Other opportunities

Those who missed the second annual Drug and Violence Awareness Expo might want to mark their calendars for Tuesday, May 17. That's when the Carroll County Health Department will host its annual Substance Abuse Awareness Program at Carroll Arts Center. The free event will feature a keynote address on protecting children online by Vince DeVivo, of the U.S. Attorney's Office, as well as the premiere of student projects for the Carroll County Coalition Against Underage Drinking.

If you go

What: Carroll County Health Department's annual Substance Abuse Awareness Program

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17

Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster

Cost: Free

For more information, contact Linda Auerback at 410-876-4803.