RUTLAND - Teen success stories are rarely reported in the news; unfortunately, in many cases, bad news gets the spotlight. But now it's time for a county-wide teen-led program to receive public attention for its work in transforming the lives of young people - for the better.
This teen-led program has a familiar name - SADD - and its call to action to teens is stronger and even more effective than you may know.
For example, take three Rutland County high school students - Emily Turgeon of Fair Haven Union High School, Nikita Howard of Black River Union High School, and Vicky Stone of Stafford Technical Center. These three young women are passionate about making a difference in their communities. So, in order to demonstrate that commitment, they attended a statewide SADD-Youth Advisory Committee training workshop held in South Burlington last month.
SADD, short for Students Against Destructive Decisions, is the largest youth leadership program in the United States. Originally founded as Students Against Drunk Driving, the organization has changed its name by expanding its mission to youth.
"Originally, the mission of a SADD chapter was to help young people say 'no' to drinking and driving," said Stacey Hart, SADD spokeswoman. "Today, the mission has expanded. Students have told us that positive peer pressure, role modeling and environmental strategies can prevent other destructive decisions and set a healthier, safer course for their lives.
"That is why SADD has become a peer-to-peer education, prevention, and activism organization dedicated to preventing destructive decisions, particularly underage drinking, other drug use, risky and impaired driving, teen violence, and teen suicide."
Locally, SADD helps Rutland County teens make responsible decisions about drugs and alcohol, traffic safety, internet safety, suicide prevention and other issues that effect them.
Each SADD Chapter in Vermont designates a teen leader to be a liaison and representative to the state-wide group and to receive advanced training at weekend retreats.
Turgeon, Howard, and Stone are local SADD liaisons. Involvement with SADD has provided them with a unique opportunity to explore themselves and learn valuable leadership skills for now and later in life.
At last month's workshop, the Youth Advisory Committee members received training to make effective public presentations; they learned about the complex issues involved in a proposed change to lower the drinking age in Vermont to 18 (SADD does not support or condone the use of alcohol by young people under the age of 21); they learned about the destructive trend of sending sexually suggestive images, via cellular telephones, to other teens (a troublesome trend called "sexting"), and they collected information about upcoming public hearings concerning "fruity sweet" alcoholic beverages - referred to as alcopops by some teens. The three students also had an opportunity to network and share ideas about the projects their local chapters have undertaken.
According to John D'Esposito, Vermont State SADD advisor, Rutland County SADD chapters have been working together on a variety of projects and are sharing the advantages of cooperation.
"SADD members and the rest of the members of their SADD chapters work hard to make their communities and the lives of their peers better," said D'Esposito.