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One local program has been helping teens avoid tragedy during what should be one of the most memorable times in their life. That organization has now received special recognition from the state, and will be expanding statewide. KSMU’s Shane Franklin spoke with the director, and has this story.
Safe and Sober started nine years ago as a way to keep local high school students safe from prom night to graduation, which statistically is the most dangerous time of year for high school students, according to Kurt Larson, the local attorney who started the program.
Thursday morning, at Mercy Hospital Springfield, the operational home for Safe and Sober, Larson announced that the Missouri Department of Transportation is awarding Safe and Sober a $130,000 grant to spread the program to any high school or middle school in Missouri that’s looking to change the culture of drinking within their community.
“It is the most humbling feeling in the world to see this program, my baby, go from the five Springfield high schools to statewide and potentially 175 high schools and middle schools throughout our state,” says Larson.
Larson says that the program will no longer be just to keep prom ready high school students from being involved in accidents after prom and graduation, but to also spread the message to younger students, all year round.
He says that the average person in Missouri now tastes their first drop of alcohol at age 12. That’s the sixth grade for most students.
With this being the case, Larson hopes that the Safe and Sober program can change the culture of drinking among teenagers by allowing high school students, who have pledged to wait to drink until they’re 21, to mentor middle school students. He hopes the program will show younger students that it’s okay to resist your peers when they offer you a drink.
Larson goes on to explain that this mentoring is absolutely crucial to a community, because a teen who is already drinking by the seventh grade is four times more likely to develop substance abuse problems than a teen who waits to drink until they’re 21.
Larson says the program has been incredibly effective over the last nine years. It has now reached nearly 50,000 students, and was implemented in 35 schools last year. He attributes a portion of the success to the way in which the program approaches the students.
“I’m a trial attorney who represents the victims of accidents, so I’m able to bring to them real live people in the Ozarks who have lost their lives or have become catastrophically injured by bad decision making and the use of alcohol. I think that resonates with our kids, and we don’t talk down to them. We treat them as adults, and ask them to sign a contract, maybe for the first time in their lives,” says Larson.
Safe and Sober targets adults too, though. The program provides videos for parents to watch, explaining the dangers of letting your children drink, and reminding them that they need to speak with their teens about drug and alcohol use.
“On this issue, we ask that they be parents. On other issues, as kids grow up you become their friends, but this is not the one to back down on. There are a lot of parents who tell me that ‘I don’t need you to tell me what to do,’ but I’ve also had legions of parents come up to me after an assembly when I have presented the scientific evidence, and say ‘Wow, now I get it. I understand why we shouldn’t be giving alcohol to our kids,’” says Larson.
Mark Peck is the Injury Prevention Outreach Coordinator for Mercy. Peck says Mercy is passionate about caring for the community. Everyday, he says, they see terrible injures and death, caused by alcohol, in their trauma center. These deaths can be prevented, and that is the goal of Mercy and the newly expanded Missouri Safe and Sober.