Substance abuse program helps kids stay honest
Buried under his work is Brian McKenna, chief operating officer for OMNI Youth Services, which is bringing the backpack on his lap and the Seven Challenges equipment inside it to Vernon Hills, Stevenson and Mundelein high schools this fall. The Seven Challenges packs include purple rapelling rope (used in a variety of activities), the Mood Dudes (which give students a physical way to express their emotions), writing journals and more. (Ronnie Wachter~Sun-Times Media)
Updated: January 21, 2013 1:55AM
LINCOLNSHIRE — The key to a new substance-abuse program in Stevenson and Vernon Hills High Schools is to get the kids to be honest. And honesty, in the case of this program, means making it safe for kids to admit to their counselors that, yes, they sometimes keep using drugs as the program is going on.
“When you ask them to be drug-free right away, what you set up is for them to be dishonest with you,” said Brian McKenna, chief operating officer of OMNI Youth Services, which is administering the Seven Challenges program this fall. “We’re going to work and push them toward that, but it’s going to take time.”
OMNI, which taught the program in the conference rooms of its Buffalo Grove headquarters since 2007, was able to bring Seven Challenges to SHS, VHHS and Mundelein High School at the start of November with the help of a $50,000 grant from the Baxter International Foundation. McKenna said. The course focuses on adolescents who have just begun experimenting with alcohol and other drugs, and hopes to keep some bright minds from going dark.
“The ones I’ve put in the program want to stay sober, and want help to do that,” said Margaret Pither, student assistance program coordinator at VHHS. “We’re trying to get to the issues of why they experimented.”
OMNI has sent about 900 teens through the 18-week Seven Challenges classes offered in its building, McKenna said; of that group, 70 percent reported on the day of their last session that they had ended or reduced their substance abuse. They had no figures for how their graduates fared in the years that followed, though. But he and Pither agreed that offering the classes only in Buffalo Grove is a hardship for families without transportation.
Pither said in previous years she did the best she could, but the new arrangement will allow access to a greater number of at-risk kids.
The grant allowed OMNI to hire a new counselor and reallocate a second one. The funds should last “many years,” McKenna said, and by the time they run out, OMNI should have new, ongoing revenue streams to maintain the program set-up.
The classes, which consist of about a dozen teens each, include talking to other kids, and counselors, about what they enjoyed in their drug use; this is part of setting an honest atmosphere and gaining trust, McKenna said. So is admitting when one gives in to temptation, during the program.
“That’s a step that really blows them away,” McKenna said. “Like, ‘You really want to talk about it?’”
Pither said talking about it can make the difference.
“If we intervene early, we can get them on the right track, and keep them there.”