The Elks' involvement in the war against illegal drug use had its beginnings in 1981, when the federal government cut back spending on many domestic programs. A call went out to all Americans for volunteerism to make up for these cuts in federal funding, and the Elks responded.
In 1982, the Elks contacted more than 2,000 mayors across the country, asking them to identify their greatest community problem in which volunteers could effectively help.
The answer was resounding. More than 70 percent -- from all regions of the country and from cities, villages and rural communities -- said that drug use was their greatest problem and that volunteers could most certainly help.
With this knowledge, the Elks took on the task of developing an effective, community-based drug-prevention program. Although much progress has been made since the Elks Drug Awareness Education Program was first announced in 1983, the need for volunteer programs to help combat drug use still exists.
The Elks program is intended to reach children in elementary and junior high school, particularly fourth- through ninth-grade students, whose attitudes and behavior can still be influenced. The objective is to increase their awareness through education of the adverse consequences of drug use, so that they decide for themselves to avoid drugs.
Conducting a Program That Works
The Elks Drug Awareness Education Program can greatly assist you in your efforts in the community. That confidence is based upon the knowledge that all components of the program have been used successfully in Lodges nationwide; there is nothing experimental about it.
The basic premise is that the Elks are not experts in drug use or its prevention. The strength of the Elks program is that it has identified a critical problem, drug use among youth; selected an achievable goal, prevention through education; and developed a program to reach that goal, activation of the community. The Elks are facilitators who can help you conduct a successful program in your community.
Five basic steps, followed in sequence, will surely lead to a successful program that will influence many youths to not destroy their future potential and their lives with drugs. It will be an achievement of which everyone involved can be justly proud.
The Elks Lodge in or nearest to your community is ready to help you with your program. The Elks can provide three critical elements: education materials, volunteer manpower and assistance with fund-raising.
Step One: Know Your Allies
The Elks are not the only organization in the community concerned with the problem of illegal drug use. Your first priority is to find out all of the other organizations that are involved and what they are doing. Then work with them as allies. Cooperation with existing programs is essential.
Failure to identify and coordinate with your allies could lead to duplication and counterproductive or conflicting activities. No matter how well-intended, an uncoordinated program could drastically reduce the benefit to the community.
Hold a "canvass" meeting involving all community groups concerned about the problem of drug use. These groups would include the police, fire and public health departments; parent-teacher organizations; churches; the Elks and other fraternal and service organizations, such as the Kiwanis, Rotary, Eagles, Lions and Moose. Don't forget local branches of national drug-prevention groups, such as PRIDE (Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education), "Just Say No" International, NFP (National Family Partnership for Drug Free Youth), and the "Be Smart -- Don't Start" anti-alcohol movement.
Following the canvass meeting, you can determine the areas not already covered, or those needing additional support, and develop an overall, coordinated, communitywide drug-prevention program. Choose a chairperson for your program who is capable, dedicated and willing to make a long-term commitment to the position.
Step Two: Know Your Experts
With few exceptions those directly involved with your program will be laymen without prior experience or extensive knowledge concerning drug use. In order to minimize the danger of exceeding your knowledge, find and enlist the aid of true experts.
Experts include medical people, doctors and pharmacists, who know the physical and mental effects of drugs. There are also law enforcement professionals, police, judges and lawyers, who have seen the impact of drug use on society. There are rehabilitation people, social workers and counselors, who know the tragedy of users.
All of these and more may be readily available in your community. It is necessary to find out who they are, contact them and determine their willingness and availability to help your program.
The importance of this step cannot be overstressed, because these experts are the people who will be speaking to your target audiences: youth, parents and teachers. Without them, the program will lack the credibility it requires to succeed. Each time you talk with an expert, ask for referrals to other experts. In this way you can quickly perpetuate your contacts and expand your list of potential speakers and supporters.
Step Three: Know Your Targets
The Youths: Define the age-group of the children you expect to reach. Even children in the lower primary grades are exposed to the drug scene, and education on the dangers of drug use can begin at a very early age. The Elks program is aimed at children in the elementary and junior high schools, especially in the fourth through ninth grades.
Youths are a discerning and sophisticated target audience. They will quickly size up an information source and determine it either to be credible or not. This is why experts must be employed; simply being an adult or concerned parent will not establish sufficient credibility to be persuasive.
The Parents: The powerful influence parents have over youths is well documented. It is therefore essential that parents provide information about drugs that is consistent with and reinforces messages from the experts.
Most often parents will be eager to get involved, if they aren't already, and will welcome any helpful information you can provide about drugs and youth.
The Teachers: Simply stated, drug use precludes learning. In the extreme it can interrupt and preclude the learning of nonusers. Therefore, teachers have a serious concern about drug use among youths. And since many youths are exposed to their teachers even more than to their parents, the teachers are uniquely positioned to make an impact.
You will probably find most teachers, as well as school administrators and counselors, to be well-informed and highly motivated to oppose drug use. You should inform them of your program and explore ways it could support them. These might include providing experts for classroom presentations or PTA programs. Teachers also provide an excellent means for distributing literature to their students.
Step Four: Know Your Tools
Most community programs are fundamentally a communication effort. The previous steps have built a foundation; now it is time to prepare for communicating. Survey the channels available to you and select those that serve you best. Basically the choices are public speaking engagements, newspapers, broadcasts, pamphlets and posters, and films. All have unique characteristics that better suit them for specific kinds of messages and audiences.
Public engagements, utilizing the experts previously identified, can be tailored to the specific audience of your choice and adjusted as your audience changes. Newspapers reach large audiences quickly, but youths do not generally read them. Therefore, newspapers are best-suited for messages aimed at parents and teachers. Broadcast media are generally considered to reach more youths than print media. Most stations will accept national public service messages or may want to produce local announcements with your help.
Pamphlets here are considered to include all handout-type literature, materials and posters. They can be most effective in conjunction with a public speaking engagement to advertise it, or as handouts distributed to the audience to reinforce the speaker's message. Like pamphlets, films are best used in support of a public speaking engagement or a television appearance to reinforce a speaker's message. Few films are effective when they must stand alone without introduction or someone to answer questions raised by their showing.
Step Five: Put It All Together
The preceding steps provide the components of a successful drug awareness program. The order of completion is not critical, but each should be thoroughly developed before launching your program. If you have confidence that youths will make intelligent decisions based upon facts, rather than false street knowledge, you can set a meaningful objective for your program. This objective will be measured in terms of the number of youths you reach, and the more messages are reinforced by parents and teachers, the more youths will decide to resist drugs.
From the onset, the objective of the program should be to reach as many people in the target audiences as possible. Keep records of attendance numbers at public speaking engagements; include newspaper circulation and broadcast audience figures. As the numbers begin to mount you will have tangible evidence that your program is making a difference. A