Wandering through a Washington D.C. hotel in search of the lobby, Director of the Elks National Drug Awareness Program Kent Gade stumbled across a room. Inside, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents were listening to John Lunt, the agency's Demand Reduction Coordinator. Gade, who had just given a speech at the Community Coalition Conference in the same hotel, sat down to hear Lunt's speech. Lunt asked Gade if he was in the right room, and as it turns out, he was. Since that day more than seven years ago, the Drug Awareness Program and the DEA have formed a partnership that has transformed the Elks role in substance abuse prevention.
"The DEA provides us with excellent materials and dynamic speakers," says Gade. "Our partnership is a tremendous asset to our efforts. The agency bends over backward for us. They are absolutely invaluable to our program."
Partners for Progress The partnership with the DEA gave the Drug Awareness Program credibility and strengthened the program's affiliations with other groups. By working with organizations such as PRIDE Youth Programs, Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Drug Awareness Program stays informed of leading drug abuse issues. With this knowledge, the program has developed new educational materials, including brochures, resources for parents and a comic book.
"The Drug Awareness Program has the potential of being so much greater than we already are," says Gade. "These new initiatives allow us to extend our efforts and continue moving forward."
According to SAMHSA's 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 4 percent of the U.S. population reported trying methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. With the help of the DEA, the Drug Awareness Program has developed a new brochure to tackle this staggering problem.
"Meth is so addictive, and I'm afraid the problem is going to get worse before it gets better," says Gade. "We're doing everything we know how to do to fight it." Parents First At the PRIDE Youth Programs Conference in April 2006, Gade approached Milton Creagh, PRIDE's spokesperson, about developing a program to educate parents on youth substance abuse. Creagh formerly hosted a parenting education series on PBS; has spoken in 49 states about challenges facing youth; and has worked with various media outlets, athletes, entertainers and politicians. With his expertise and the help of PRIDE's CEO Jay DeWispelaere, Creagh developed an affordable DVD-based parenting education series, which launched this fall. The Drug Awareness Program plans to release a public service announcement about the Parenting Program to market the videos to community groups. The videos will also be available at Lodges.
"We can't get our kids off drugs if parents are doing drugs," says Gade. "I hope the Parenting Program will teach adults to become better parents."
Heroes Help with Hard Choices In spring of 2005, the educational division of Marvel Comics approached the Elks National Foundation about producing a custom comic book featuring an ENF-funded program. The proposal sparked interest with Gade, who thought the comic would appeal to middle-school kids. Finding appropriate drug education material for this age group often presents a challenge.
"A lot of people think kids this age are too young to educate about drugs," says Kent. "But kids form a lot of attitudes at this age, and kids will have attitudes about drugs long before they use them."
At the 2005 Grand Lodge Convention in Reno, Gade met with Marvel and jokingly approached a director at SAMSHA's Center for Drug Abuse Prevention, Peggy Quigg, about funding the comic book. To his surprise, Quigg insisted that SAMSHA partner in funding the book.
"We're very grateful for the assistance from SAMSHA and the Elks National Foundation," says Gade, noting the Foundation increased Drug Awareness Program funding by more than $63,000 in 2006-07. "We hope the comic will have an excellent presence in schools." Titled Hard Choices, the comic features Elroy the Elk, the Drug Awareness mascot, joining forces with the Fantastic Four and Spiderman. Together, they teach kids about making good decisions when faced with peer pressure to use alcohol or tobacco. The comic and its corresponding teacher's guide launched in fall of 2006.
Future Focus In the coming years, Gade hopes the Drug Awareness Program will increase its visibility in the media and in schools. Last summer, to educate communities about the Drug Awareness Program, Elks National Foundation staff worked with the program to create a new brochure highlighting the Elks commitment to drug education. Gade hopes this brochure will create enthusiasm among local educators, so they'll welcome the program's resources in schools. The program will also continue to distribute drug education literature through its drug awareness trailers and volunteers.
"I have found that once a person gets involved with the Drug Awareness Program, they become addicted," says Gade. "The dedication of members is outstanding, and together, we'll work together to become better leaders in the fight against drug abuse."
For more information about the Elks National Drug Awareness Program, please visit www.elks.org/drugs. In 2006-07, the Elks National Foundation will distribute $598,000 to completely fund the Elks National Drug Awareness Program. For more information about the Foundation, visit www.elks.org/enf.