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Fighting substance abuse: Students gain insight in D.C.

Tallin Cook, Grace Miller and Hannah Botzet recently attended a National Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. Cook is a junior at Truman High School, while Miller and Botzet are sophomores at Fairmont High School. All three are members of the Youth Coalition arm of the Martin County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

Several Youth Coalition students with the Martin County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition recently had the honor of attending a National Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.

The forum is hosted annually by Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.

Students Grace Miller, Hannah Botzet and Tallin Cook, along with MCSAP project coordinator Steph Johnson, and parents Judy Botzet and Tim Cook, were excited to learn more about the message of prevention.

“This year there were over 3,000 people that came together, and of that 500 were youth,” Johnson said. “It celebrates all of the work of all of the coalitions across the country, and especially our youth that are leading the way with their peers in drug and alcohol prevention.

“This is the first year that I’ve gone and was able to bring some students. We all got to hear from speakers on the importance of prevention. It started with our national day of prevention, then the next day we had meetings all day, and the next day we spent our day at Capitol Hill and go to a rally and speak to our representatives about why supporting prevention is important.”

The students discussed their favorite experiences.

“The coolest thing for me was when we got to go to Capitol Hill that day,” Miller said. “We got to go into Jim Hagedorn’s office and talk with his people and tell our stories. Towards the end, we got to swap stories with Jim, and we learned about him and he learned about us, and we got to talk about the different things the coalition has been doing.”

Botzet appreciated being in the U.S. capital.

“Just exploring all the buildings and seeing all the different people that were there and knowing what they wanted to hear from the kids was good,” she said.

Cook was similarly impressed with the crowds in attendance.

“One thing that I found interesting was seeing just how many people came together for the common goal of making their communities better and striving for drug-free communities,” he said. “Just going into each room there were hundreds of people, and then when we all met together you would have a few thousand people in one room.”

All three students noted how happy they are to be involved in YOCO and what it means to them personally.

“I think being in YOCO is important because I can see that our communities are going downhill over time,” Cook said. “But through YOCO they’ve been slowly starting to get better and making the community more friendly and open for youth and adults.”

“I got involved because of my siblings and just because of how many kids are getting involved with drugs,” said Botzet, who had older siblings also involved with YOCO. “I want them to know how bad it is for them and I want community members to know what we’re doing to educate kids and adults.”

Miller said her involvement stems from having seen the effects of drugs and alcohol on her peers.

“I think it’s just hard when you’re in high school and you look around at all the scientific data and see the effects that all these different substances have on you,” she said. “Seeing your friends go through that and seeing it in real life is just really scary and heart-wrenching. So being in YOCO is important for teaching them and the community ways to help them and reach out to them.”

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