SafeLaunch Uses a Proactive Approach To Fight Youth Substance Use | Good for Santa Barbara | #students | #parents

Posted on November 23, 2022
| 2:00 p.m.

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In this interview, Noozhawk spoke with Janet Rowse, Founding President & Executive Director for SafeLaunch to learn more about the nonprofit’s goal to end childhood substance use.


Question: What is the name & mission of your nonprofit?

Answer: The SafeLaunch message is surprisingly simple: developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to any substance use. Accomplishing our mission to prevent youth use requires that adults come to understand the basic brain development and promote the health standard of no use of substances by youth under age 21.

Click to view largerStudent Scholarship Award Recipients (SafeLaunch photo)

Q: How long has your nonprofit been in service and whom was it started by?

A: SafeLaunch was founded in 2010 by local parents who saw a critical need for increased teen substance use prevention and parent education.

Most parents do not know that:

a) the developing brain is uniquely vulnerable to substance use

b) for teens, all substance use is related 

c) teen substance use is not inevitable

Q: What was the inspiration behind your nonprofit?

A: Ron Cuff, co-founder and former Navy carrier pilot, witnessed the epic change in culture and morale that occurred when the Navy proactively began to deal with the threat of drug use. The Department of Defense enacted random drug screening, which almost immediately bolstered both morale and esprit de’ corps, returning the U.S. Military back to excellence. Applied to today’s youth, using a proactive approach, the current epidemic of addiction and death by overdose could turn that same corner and ensure our country’s future.

During the 16 years that cofounder Janet Rowse volunteered in our local schools, she came to see that not enough was being done to teach students about their brain and why they would want to protect it from alcohol or other drugs. Parent education on the topic was likewise under valued, and when available, under utilized. When her community decided to promote recreational cannabis cultivation and sales, she began to learn more about the risk of drugs to young people, and decided to continue advocating for youth. SafeLaunch was started to see that all young people could achieve their goals, healthy and unimpeded by substance use.

Q: How is your nonprofit primarily funded and what are your greatest needs?

A: SafeLaunch is 100% privately funded, through donations at in-person and online events, and our national membership organization. Our greatest needs are to fund educational materials, cover expenses incurred to take our message across the country, and for scholarships that recognize graduating high school seniors who have dealt with and overcome substance abuse within their family. Learn more at

Q: In what ways does your nonprofit utilize it’s funding?

A: Through our outreach and educational programs, events and scholarships, we inform parents and children about youth brain development. We teach that abstaining from substances until one’s early 20’s exponentially lowers the chance of becoming addicted to any substance, which allows for the development of healthy academic and social patterns, that define a successful and happy adult. We challenge youth to pledge to avoid substance use before age 21, and defend themselves against negative peer pressure and the addiction for profit industries whose success depends on making them customers for life. We couldn’t do any of this without the generosity of private donations and business

Wind Beneath Our Wings MemorialClick to view largerWind Beneath Our Wings Memorial (SafeLaunch photo)

Q: What types of fundraisers and/or programs does your nonprofit run?

A: We receive funds through donations at our in person and virtual events, online fundraising, annual giving campaigns, our website, and hopefully anyone reading this. There is nothing more important than the health of our future generations. Our programs include the SafeLaunch Parent Alliance, One Choice Prevention, Student Scholarships, Flights Above Addiction, Wind Beneath Our Wings, and Excellence in Prevention Awards.

The Parent Alliance is a membership organization consisting of parents, grandparents, businesses, and community organizations who are a part of the solution to the addiction epidemic. Anyone interested can learn more and join here.

One Choice Prevention is a clear and simple message. Because the adolescent brain is actively and rapidly developing until about age 25, it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of substance use. The earlier substance use begins, and the heavier the use, the more likely a person will develop addiction, also known as substance use disorder. Preventing all substance use by teens reduces the risk of delaying and derailing their short term goals, and greatly reduces the risk of contracting addiction as adults. SafeLaunch encourages teens to make the daily commitment not to use alcohol or other intoxicating drugs before age 21 for their health, and informs adults so that they know how to better protect their children and their communities, all backed by science. Read more here.

SafeLaunch provides student scholarships for post secondary training and continuing education to graduating high school students who have demonstrated resilience from backgrounds challenged by substance use. Read more on our website.

Flights Above Addiction invites youth artists to paint on the “SafeLaunch Prevention Plane” at aviation events across the state and country. After a brief lesson about the science of addiction, youthful artists depict their own dreams on the fuselage of the plane and take a pledge to make One Choice: not to use alcohol or other drugs before age 21. This program started in 2013 and has completed 61 missions to date. There are dozens of videos about Flights Above Addiction on our YouTube Channel. Learn more at our website.

Wind Beneath Our Wings is a flying memorial to young people who died from substance use. SafeLaunch has over 500 names permanently memorialized under the wings of the plane, and displayed on colorful banners on the wings and in the windows of the aircraft at aviation events. The parents of these young people are our “Wing Parents” and they are particularly meaningful to our mission as they have courageously shared their children’s stories to prevent similar tragedies in other families. Read more here.

The SafeLaunch Excellence in Prevention Awards recognize cities, counties, school districts, youth service providers and Drug Free Coalitions that demonstrate extraordinary success in preventing exposure to and use of addictive substances before age 21, and prioritizing youth wellness within their community. Nominations are accepted via our website. 

Q: Describe your organization’s staffing models and internal operations. Has anything changed since the start of your nonprofit?

A: SafeLaunch is a grassroots organization. It consists of the founders, Commander Ron Cuff and Janet Rowse, along with board members Brian Rowse, and “Wing Parent” Darcy Patterson, whose daughter Kirsten died from overdose at the tender age of 21.

In 2020, SafeLaunch added Dr. Robert Dupont to the board of directors. A preeminent authority on the disease of addiction, Dr. Dupont was the first director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the nation’s second White House Drug Czar. For 50 years, Robert L. DuPont, MD has been a leader in drug abuse prevention and treatment. He is a practicing addiction medicine specialist who has written hundreds of academic articles and 15 books, most recently, Chemical Slavery. An advisory board of local community leaders, including current Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse, rounds out our team.

The changes since SafeLaunch began include an even greater sense of immediacy with the onset of the fentanyl tidal wave that is taking so many of our youth and adults. Over 107, 000 people died last year from overdose alone. The movement to legalize Schedule 1 drugs for recreational use greatly increases the need for rapid education about the developing brain’s unique vulnerability and an effective community plan to prevent youth drug use.

Q: How do people get involved/volunteer for your nonprofit?

A: Our contact information is our website, Subscribing to our monthly newsletter keeps folks abreast of our events and fundraisers. There are also a number of YouTube videos, event postings, and other volunteer opportunities accessible via our website. People can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We look forward to hearing from you!

Q: What makes your nonprofit different from others?

A: Addiction affects each and every individual directly or indirectly. It is a disease that is 100% incurable while being 100% preventable. SafeLaunch is different because it can leverage prevention dollars to save society from not only the pain of the disease of addiction, but from the billions of dollars spent on treatment programs with a disappointingly low rate of success. Treatment of the disease of addiction will sadly always be necessary. SafeLaunch goes upstream to keep youth from developing a substance use disorder and never needing treatment.

Q: What is one best kept secret or fun fact about your nonprofit that not everyone knows?

A: Our co-founder, retired Navy Commander Ron Cuff is the only crazy pilot in the world who has let kids paint on his airplane 61 times.

Q: Can you tell us one short-term goal and one long-term goal that your nonprofit has for the next year?

A: Our short-term goal is to reverse the trajectory of overdose deaths, ruined youthful lives and the growth of the burgeoning unsheltered population. Our long-term goal is to no longer be needed in the fight to end childhood substance use.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your nonprofit that has not been mentioned above?

A: Addiction is a life sentence. You can’t cure it, but if you’re lucky, supported and strong, you can manage it day by day. Anyone who suffers from addiction, no matter how functional they may seem in everyday life, would tell you they wouldn’t wish this curse on their worst enemy.

We have spent decades embracing the spread and normalization of illicit and medical substances as substitutes for and avoidance of normal human emotions. We know drug use is not going away, but if we can get the next generation to hold off and complete their adolescence without the use of any substance, there is hope for a bright future for America.

Click here to support SafeLaunch’s mission to protect youth from substance abuse.

Check out Noozhawk’s Guide to Giving for a full list of nonprofits to donate to this giving season.

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