Nearly 300 students from nine schools attended the 22nd Annual Warren County Students Against Destructive Decisions Conference at the Holy Redeemer Center on Friday.
High schools represented were Eisenhower, Sheffield, Tidioute Community Charter School, Warren, Youngsville, East Forest, West Forest, Kane, and Bradford.
Guest speakers included Warren County Sheriff Kenneth Klakamp, Judge Gregory Hammond, State Rep. Kathy Rapp, and District Attorney Ross McKeirnan.
Times observer photo by Rob Andersen
Abraxas students presentation
Five students and one drug and alcohol counselor from Abraxas related their stories to students from nine schools attending the annual Warren County Students Against Destructive Decisions Conference. From left are Danny Ortiz, Dionte Clay, Blake Morris, Charles Stanmaker, Tina Galassi, drug and alcohol counselor, and Steven Holland.
The 271 students rotated through three workshops:
A Pennsylvania Youth Survey that delineates risk and protection factors presented by Youngsville Police Chief Todd Mineweaser
Keynote speaker Tim Radar, who twice faced seemingly insurmountable odds and won. As a promising high school quarterback in his senior year, Radar was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. His dreams of playing college ball were shattered as he fought for his life. He beat cancer but was left with a serious opiate addiction that would haunt him for more than a decade. Now living drug free, Radar tells a story of addiction and redemption that is a cautionary tale from which anyone can learn.
Five students from Abraxas Youth and Family Services in Marienville who gave their stories to the attending students.
Tina Galassi, an Abraxas drug and alcohol counselor, introduced the five students, and talked somewhat emotionally about her personal introduction to destructive decisions. She said, "Twenty years ago next week, I refused to drive my then 11 siblings home after an event. One of my sisters drove instead, and a drunk driver hit them head-on. Two of my sisters in the front seat were killed instantly, and the car went into the water where four more drowned. The drunk driver is serving a life sentence for six counts of involuntary homicide."
Steven Holland, 17, said he was a good student and athlete, but when he was 14 he started smoking marijuana daily at school, then began selling drugs. He said he almost died of an overdose, and spent what should have been the best years of his young life doing drugs and spend time in Abraxas and two other facilities. "My family didn't want to have much to do with me. I failed as a role model for my three younger sisters."
He added, "But now I'm doing well at Abraxas, got my high school diploma, and I still have a lot of hope for myself."
Danny Ortiz, 16, said, "I am an addict. I was hanging with the wrong people, and I started smoking weed when I was 12." He began selling, then left home for a year, robbing people and stealing things to sell at pawnshops. After returning to his mother's house he was arrested. He kept smoking, was later sent to a detention center, and ended up at Abraxas.
Dionte Clay who is from Washington D.C., started smoking marijuana, quit school, and ended up spending "three or four years" in detention centers and six months in a group home. He started drugs again, and spent four months on the run. He said of Abraxas, "People tell you what to do, when to do it. My family doesn't come to visit."
Blake Morris said he is going home for good on Monday. His story began when he pulled a friend out of a partially frozen river, and "since then, he became my best friend. But he got me into trouble." Morris failed the first part of his freshman year, then during the summer he was introduced to K2, a synthetic drug that contains many poisonous chemicals. He was thrown out of a automotive technology program in his sophomore year, spent time at an Abraxas facility near Philadelphia, a different facility in Lancaster, and ended up at Abraxas in Marienville. Today he has his high school diploma, and plans on attending college in the fall. He described life at Abraxas as "nice but it still sucks at the same time. Everything you do, get up, eat, brush your teeth, someone tells you when to do it. Three-minute showers. And school is seven days a week, 365 days a year. There is limited contact with our families, twice a month on the grounds or once a month outside. We can't have any contact with females. On weekends, we get to watch movies, always the same movies. Anyone here could tell you every line in 'The Longest Yard'."
He added, "There are no newspapers, no TV."
The final student, Charles Stanmaker, from West Virginia, said, "When I was ten years old I began going to a neighbor's house to play Xbox. My friend's parents were growers for the entire town. One day they said, 'Do you want to hit on this bong?' I didn't like it at first, but I still did it sometimes." He began dating girls whose parents sold marijuana. He listed several big mistakes he had made, including getting cocky with a police officer, and then punching him. He advised the rapt students, "Don't do that. If there is one thing you take away from here, don't do that." He added his probation officer gave him 23 chances, and after failing drug testing that many times he ended up in Abraxas. He added that after smoking K2, he flatlined for four minutes "I was gone."