Students Honored for Anti-Drug Pledges - TribPapers
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Students Honored for Anti-Drug Pledges

Standing in the back row, L-R, are Ella Neve, HPD Chief Blair Myhand, Fatima Torres and Alan Guzman. Sheriff Lowell Griffin is at right, in back. Middle School students are among those with them. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Henderson County – Alan Guzman knows first-hand the multi-level destruction of lives from drug addition; he saw what addiction did to his elder sister and their entire family.

Guzman is among dozens of student leaders who were at Hope Coalition’s anti-drug rally last Friday, outside the Henderson County Historic Courthouse. He, and two other student leaders, spoke after the rally with the Tribune.

Guzman is the student government president for Henderson County Career Academy. Ella Neve serves in the same role for the school system’s Early College program. Fatima Torres is Early College senior class president. Shannon Auten is the principal of both programs, which are in the Innovative High Schools building at Blue Ridge Community College.

Asserting Selves

The three students were asked how they best handle peer pressure, such as if offered drugs at a party where most others are partaking.

Torres said she would simply “walk away,” rather than risk an argument by staying to try to explain her views then and there. She prefers to approach friends “when they’re not using,” and when away from their substance-using peers.

Her supportive message includes to think of one’s future, and not to “throw it away” with addiction and a potential long-lasting criminal record. She said, “many people don’t think of ‘what it can do to me.’’’

She said someone in her family has substance abuse, and this makes her extra determined to avoid drugs. She is considering entering the military after graduation. She eyes a physical therapy career.

Neve said she might try a direct, nurturing approach by making eye contact and assuring the person is cared about by her and others. Neve plans to study neuroscience as pre-med, at UNC-Chapel Hill.

These students pledge to avoid illegal substances. They are joined on the Courthouse Square by school administrators. Photo by Pete Zamplas

‘Miserable’ Addiction

Guzman candidly noted his sister is hooked on heroin, and as a result she lost custody of her child. He said it is horrifying to see her decline from a “hard worker to a completely miserable person. She’s not the same person.”

Guzman is blazing his own path. He reaches out to others who welcome guidance in their lifestyle choices, to better “grasp the many issues” and behavioral changes (such as decline in morals) related to addiction. He is leaning to a career in public health, perhaps dealing with youth who are homeless and/or in a family beset by addiction. 

Daring Stand

Henderson County Manager John Mitchell hosted the rally. Other speakers were School Supt. Dr. John Bryant, Hendersonville Police Chief Blair Myhand, Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin, and Brandon Nudd who is president and CEO of AdventHealth Hendersonville (formerly Park Ridge Health).

Chief Myhand said “I lost my longest sister to drugs, 12 years ago. She was a longtime addict.”

The speakers touted the students as leaders of their generation now and of the community down the road. They praising the students for bucking destructive peer pressure, and setting a positive trend others can follow with stands against illegal substances. Mitchell called the public pledge a trigger to seizing the “mantel of leadership.”

Supt. Bryant likened the courthouse columns to the students becoming “pillars of our future.” Sheriff Griffin pointed to the sky, noting how the “sun is shining on us” with hope. But for now law enforcement is on the “front lines. We see so much devastation” from addiction that typically starts with “sharing a party favor” such as a marijuana joint. “Using it once or twice can lead to a lifetime of problems, and to a family shattered. You can lose your future. You can lose your life” from overdosing.

Referring to violent crime and property theft to fund habits, Chief Myhand said such “problems of society have drugs as their nexus.”

Nudd said “when there is substance abuse and sickness in your family, it’s hard to feel whole.”

Mitchell cited statistics that show illicit drug use is rising among youths. He said 39 percent of Americans ages 18-25 admit to using illegal drugs, and that 70 percent of those who first dabbled in substances when 13 or younger developed addiction disorders.

Pre-Trial Outreach

Several staff and volunteers of the sponsoring group, Hope Coalition, attended. Julie Huneycutt is the director — since 2014. Michelle Gilliken Geiser is the program director.

Many volunteers are in “peer support,” as recovering addicts who can help others fend off their addictions, Geiser noted. Geiser said alcoholism “runs in my family” and she is tuned into education of youth since she and husband Kevin are school parents.

Geiser’s outreach is into anti-drug public education, advocacy, prevention attempts, and assistance with recovery. Her doctorate degree in education specializes in “social, emotional and educational” outreach.

Geiser said it is crucial to smash past teens’ sense of invincibility. “Every kid thinks it (addiction) will never happen to him or her.”

She is excited about Hope Coalition’s Pre-Trial Diversion program that began last summer. Teen defendants get help to avoid their legal drug charge cases going to trial. Instead, they bolster their treatment with a special course. It is comprised of 12 two-hour sessions spread over a half-year to full year. The program also requires each participant to do 20 hours of community service, Geiser noted.

Hope Coalition also helps with skills of interviewing for jobs and writing resumes, to help with securing gainful employment.

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