The organization hopes the movement will inspire local teens between sixth and 12th grades to commit to a drug-free life through the project.
Their commitment will be met with incentives to encourage a healthy mindset. When kids apply for membership, they sign a commitment form, validate their pledge with a parent-approved drug test and receive a photo ID card, which provides them with special perks and discounts across the community. With membership, they will learn to make the right choices when it comes to drugs, nicotine and alcohol.
According to the Public Outreach Coordinator Chrissie Salazar, substance use of Punta Gorda teens has dropped in recent years.
“We do know that 9% use cigarettes, and yet 22% are using e-cigarettes or vaping. It’s important to note that the vaping statistic for late 2020 is down from 31% use in 2019,” she said.
Salazar also stated, from the organization’s findings, 75% of teens don’t use alcohol, 80% don’t use marijuana, and the teen prescription drug abuse has declined from 20% in 2014, the year the coalition began, to 10% currently.
Program Coordinator Monica Babcock said there’s a reason the community’s involvement in the program contributes to the decrease in teen substance abuse.
“As the community businesses, schools, parents and social service agencies support this effort, we create a local culture that demonstrates how much we respect teens who choose to be alcohol, nicotine, and drug free and celebrate their decision,” said Babcock.
In the organization’s recent meeting, Babcock stated they have received funding from Archway Institute, the Congregational United Church of Christ and the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association’s organization, Beyond Ourselves.
“Praise the Lord,” said Babcock. “We have enough to get the program started.”
Courtesy of the Bayfront Center YMCA, the initiative will have a location to meet monthly at. If they receive approval to meet at the South County Regional Park, the group will meet twice a month on Thursday evenings.
Babcock had participants brainstorm ways to kick off the initiative while keeping kids safe.
Anthony Pribble, board member of Do The Right Thing and a retired Punta Gorda Police Department officer, spoke on his thoughts on organizing kid-friendly activities during the pandemic.
“I always come up with the bounce house and game ideas for the kids, but with the state we’re in right now, I have to put my thinking cap on,” he said.
Nonetheless, community support will drive the initiative.
“Business owners will recognize their membership and be able to tell a student they are proud of them. It gives me goosebumps,” said Salazar.
The initiative will kick off on April 22. The organization plans to have students reserve time slots for registration to keep the crowds down to a minimum. Further details have yet to be released.