Students Pledge Anti-Drug Lifestyles - TribPapers

Students Pledge Anti-Drug Lifestyles

Students from (L-R, in front row) East and North Henderson and Hendersonville high schools applaud a We are Hope rally speaker Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hendersonville – Several of the Henderson County high school and middle school students who gathered Friday in the annual We Are Hope rally against substance abuse said they best buck peer pressure by either avoiding parties with non-friends, or by firmly stating their abstinence from addictive substances if offered them.

They also said that vaping is on the rise, and they realize that fentanyl and other cheap but deadly ingredients are getting mixed into many drugs including some vaped.

Several dozens of students gathered on a windy day on the Henderson County Historic Courthouse’s steps, below giant banners on all six majestic columns. Each school’s banner was filled with signatures of students pledging to avoid illegal drugs and also alcohol and tobacco. Career Academy was on one end and Early College on the column on the other side.

In between, each column had banners of a high school coupled with its middle, feeder school. Those combos are Hendersonville High (HHS) and Middle, East Henderson and Flat Rock Middle, North Henderson and Apple Valley Middle, and West Henderson and Rugby Middle. Students also signed ahead a car labeled We are Hope, which was parked in front of the courthouse.

Initially, student government officers and others clustered in the outdoor entrance area by the front door to avoid rain that was forecast. It rained hard most of Friday. But rain held off for an hour for the noon rally — as if an approving signal from the heavens.

The non-profit Hope Coalition and Henderson County Public Schools co-sponsored the rally as the culmination of the Week of Hope filled with special events at each school.

Speakers Praise Students

Henderson County Manager John Mitchell hosted the rally, an annual event since 2015. He said there is a strong collaborative effort among groups such as churches, non-profits and others “who care” for youths and their challenges. Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk also praised We are Hope participants as future community leaders.

Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chair Rebecca McCall said positive role modeling is effective. She said teens are more likely to heed advice of “friends” who lead healthy lifestyles than older parental figures.

Other speakers were new schools Superintendent Mark Garrett, Hendersonville Police Chief Blair Myhand, and Henderson County Capt. Tim Griffin. Garrett said how impressed he is with students’ strong turnout at the rally and active participation in events throughout the week. Griffin, among others, praised students for bucking destructive peer pressure.

Chief Myhand said addiction grips many families. He noted that his sister died from drug use a dozen years ago, and lengthy addiction shortened their father’s life.

Myhand noted that a generation or two ago, peer pressure ostracized substance avoiders as if they were uncool. But he said the tide has turned. Although addictions are rising, so is devotion to a substance-free life in many other teens. Myhand touted “remarkable” resolve of current student leaders and role models.

The stakes are greater than ever, Myhand said. Drug use not only can lead to long-term addiction, but also instant death for first-time experimenters, he emphasized. “It’s about death.”

Principal Bobby Wilkins of HHS told the Tribune that students have forward “vision” in safeguarding their lives with substance-free living.

The two HHS seniors at the rally were Lillie Connet and Reece Wilson. Connet’s father, John Connet, is the Hendersonville city manager. Lillie similarly eyes a career in public policy, and uniting various groups for worthy community programs.

Connet praised award-winning HHS school resource officer Joreeca Dinnell for being a non-judgmental listener to student problems and even doing “wrong… She’s there to help us.”

East Carolina University-bound Wilson is familiar to sports fans. He is a star football defensive lineman, wrestles in the 220-pound division, and plays first base in baseball. He is among athletes who realize that a college scholarship is at stake when choosing a lifestyle. “You don’t want to mess that up.” Further, following the wrong crowd the wrong way can lead to a criminal record that plagues job hunting.

Vapor Capers

Vaping involves inhaling from a small hand-held device a heated mist mix of nicotine, propylene glycol and other additives, and chemical flavors. An aerosol spray shoots the mix into one’s throat and lungs. Medical studies show that vaping damages gums, can damage organs, and can develop an addictive personality in the user.

“Vaping has easy accessibility” since its delivery devices are as small as a vape pen, portable, and easily pocketed and hidden, noted Jesse Jakubieksi. The senior is West Henderson’s Student Body president.

The worst danger is from ingredients that people put in it. Jakubieski said it is bad enough that students vape nicotine, but much worse if they sneak in other substances that can even be lethal. Indeed, others cannot easily tell what a youth is inhaling when vaping. That encourages sneaking in marijuana or even hard drugs, which law enforcement authorities note might turn out to be laced with deadly fentanyl.

Protect Mind, Body

Two West Lady Falcon seniors are among local athletes who said they have extra reasons to protect their health by avoiding smoking and drugs. “As an athlete, it’s an important incentive to avoid substances,” volleyball setter Kylee Haynes said.

Megan Broome plays first base in softball. She said avoiding drugs and smoking is critical to “physical and mental performance” as an athlete. This includes maintaining conditioning and thus endurance, and also sharp mental focus and situational awareness. Even more importantly, a substance-free lifestyle “it affects our lives” long-term.

North Henderson senior three-sport star Lexi Gunter said, “Especially being an athlete, having strong lungs and bodies is crucial to success in your sport. Avoiding things that can damage that can make success more achievable.” Gunter was impressed with the anti-drug pep rally at her school last Thursday.

Asserting Selves

The Tribune asked students at the rally how they best handle peer pressure, such as if offered drugs at a party where most others are partaking. West senior Cooper Hughes figures even if the chance he might ever try an illegal substance is very, very slight he does not want to risk the temptation. “I avoid parties and other situations where there’s an opportunity to try something.” He said it helps to “let them know what I believe in, and what I want in life and don’t want to do.”

Haynes said if offered substances, it is best to firmly refuse enough so one is not apt to be pressured again. “I’ll be friendly but very steadfast, so they believe it.“

She said she avoids get-togethers unless they are mostly with friends she knows are also substance-free. “I want to feel safe and comfortable.”

Wilson of HHS said, “I don’t want to miss out” on a social life. So he goes to parties, but asserts his boundaries when needed.

East Henderson Student Body Pres. Ivy Jaurez said she is thankful to live in a neighborhood safe from drug-related and other crime.

West Falcon Hughes sees We Are Hope anti-drug pledges and the rally as influencing younger teens. “By standing together, we might save a life.”