Community Action Network for Drug-free Lifestyle Empowerment, Inc. (CANDLE, Inc.), the 501c3 Butler based non-profit that started the original, grassroots Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program back in 2003, has received a $340 donation from the USX Federal Credit Union in Sarver, PA.
CANDLE was one of two charities selected for the credit union’s Impact Area Families project. “We are very grateful for this support from USX Federal Credit Union. Their generous donation allows us to continue to protect and educate more families!” says Norma Norris, Executive Director of CANDLE, Inc. and Reality Tour developer.
The program impacts thousands each year with authenticated Reality Tour replications in 7 states and 2 in Canada. CANDLE’s mission is to provide memorable, sustainable and innovative drug/alcohol prevention programs at the community level to educate parent & child together.
For more information about Reality Tour or to offer your support to this organization visit the website www.RealityTour.org.
The inaugural Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour on Oct. 31 will bring Westmoreland County to the forefront of one of America's fastest-growing drug prevention initiatives, according to Norma Norris, executive director of CANDLE Inc., a Butler-based nonprofit which developed the event.
The tour will be the latest in the national program, for children ages 10 and up and their parents, that features real stories and scenarios from people affected by drugs and alcohol.
It is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 31 at Rumbaugh Elementary School in the borough, and it will be held the second Thursday of each month thereafter, with the next one slated to take place Nov. 14.
“Westmoreland County is shaping up to be the model county for drug prevention,” Norris said.
Area volunteers, law enforcement officials and civic leaders have brought the local version of the Reality Tour to fruition at three sites throughout the county — the most of any county throughout the nation, Norris said.
The other sites are at the Westmoreland County Courthouse and Norwin High School.
“We're in 10 other states and a dozen Pennsylvania counties, and Westmoreland now will have the most Reality Tours of any county ... period,” Norris said. “It's been a natural evolution to open the Norwin tour, and now, Mt. Pleasant.”
In late 2012, Mt. Pleasant Mayor Jerry Lucia and Norvelt District Judge Roger F. Eckels, in partnership with Scottdale District Judge Charles Moore, spoke with Norris about what it would take to start a version of the Reality Tour to for area youth and parents.
“In the last two years, there have been so many problems with young adults and drugs,” Lucia said. “We want to be a part of helping to curb that and keep the numbers down, not from going up.”
The tour held at the county courthouse had become so popular since its inception in 2007 that today there is a six-month wait for registrants to take part, Norris said.
“In the beginning, I drove from Butler to deliver the program at the Greensburg courthouse sometimes to only 15 to 20 people,” Norris said. “Now we have parents understanding that every child is at risk.”
Since spring, a committee of volunteers including members of Mt. Pleasant Borough Council, Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisors and Mt. Pleasant Area School District have been meeting monthly to bring the local tour to fruition.
“Things are moving ahead very well. The participation is really amazing, with the number of people showing up and donating their time to this effort,” Eckels said. “We're looking forward to making it one of the best Reality Tours in the state.”
The event will convey a powerful, emotional message to those attending, according to Mt. Pleasant Township's John Hostoffer, a retired Westmoreland County Prison lieutenant and president of Mt. Pleasant Area Drug Awareness Inc. “It'll have an effect not only on young people, but also parents, it's going to be very intense; a wake-up call for the kids, there's going to be some emotional reactions,” Hostoffer said. “We really went over and above with everything we did involving this to get the message out about how bad drugs can be.”
Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisor Frank Puskar said he thinks the tour will prove to be a valuable local resource for drug awareness among the area's youth.
“The youth are the future of our community, and we need to get these kids aware of the dangers of drugs. We care about our youth and we care about our community,” Puskar said.
Additional volunteers who have stepped forward to help develop the local tour represent a cross-section of area communities, Eckels said.
“You have all walks of life involved,” he said.
That also includes area teens, including members of the Students Against Destructive Decisions clubs and drama clubs at both Mt. Pleasant Area and Southmoreland senior high schools, and residents who all care about conveying the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, Eckels said.
“It (the tour) is going to open up the lines of communication between the parents and the children,” he said.
Regarding the nationwide prominence which the Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour will enable for the county, Lucia and Eckels both expressed pride.
“That's really a proud token for us,” Lucia said.
Eckels said such a development “speaks volumes.”
“That speaks a lot to the citizens of our county,” he said. “I give my hats off to the borough officials, the township officials and the school district officials, along with all the other volunteers.”
Eckels specifically cited several individuals whose talents have been invaluable in the development the Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour, including:
• Rumbaugh Elementary Principal Lance Benteler (provision of school use)
• Tour co-directors Jamie Hause and Kelsey Landy
• Mt. Pleasant Township Secretary Caprice Mills (event pre-registration)
• St. Vincent College Prevention Projects Executive Director Donna Kean
• Westmoreland Courthouse Reality Tour volunteer director Sharron Prettiman
• Norwin Reality Tour co-directors Gina and Keith Davis.
In addition, many others donated countless hours of their time to develop and prepare this tour, Eckels said.
“It would be nice to acknowledge all the volunteers, the councilmen and councilwomen, the township supervisors, nurses, police officers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and leaders, secretaries and retirees.”
Preceding the first Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour is Red Ribbon Week, a campaign against drugs which began Wednesday and runs through Oct. 31, Eckels said.
For more information on pre-registration for the inaugural tour, contact Caprice Mills by phone at 724-423-5653 or in person at the Mt. Pleasant Township municipal building at 208 Poker Road in Mammoth.
The Mt. Pleasant Reality Tour registration application is also available at mtpleasanttwp.com, Mills said.
“There are still spots available for Oct. 31, but they're going fast,” Eckels said.
Norris — who hopes to expand to even more county sites going forward — is confident the Mt. Pleasant event will go a long way toward drug and alcohol abuse prevention among the area's youth, she said.
“It takes people saying ‘We're not going to hand over our community to the drug dealers,'” she said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jill Cueni-Cohen
The dramatic presentation opened with a casual conversation about how cool it is to do drugs but turned into a horrible night of consequences, including death from an overdose. The consequence is an example of what could happen to teens who get hooked on drugs.
The "Reality Tour," a substance-abuse prevention program staged last Thursday, was created in Butler nearly 10 years ago by Community Action Network for Drug-free Lifestyle Empowerment, Inc. as an interactive story in which middle school students and their parents are given a glimpse of what it might be like to live life hooked on heroin.
"I'm just like you," chants the teenage voice throughout the program as she leads a group through a party, a drug bust, a real jail cell, another party, an emergency room and, finally, a mock funeral.
"Imagine trading places with me," her recorded voice provokes. The program is offered at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday in the Adams municipal building, 690 Valencia Road.
Adams police Officer Edward Lenz, who has been on the job for three years, said he didn't expect to encounter so many teenagers getting busted for drug-related offenses.
"We have a lot of underage drinking, marijuana use and prescription drug use, and we arrest quite a few teens," he said.
Officer Lenz often plays the role of the "Reality Tour" program's arresting officer.
" 'Reality Tour' focuses on decision-making and how to get out of a bad situation," he said, adding that he has never arrested a teen after they attended a "Reality Tour" program. "The kids get a certificate of attendance, and they sign a pledge to be drug-free."
Executive director Norma Norris of Butler founded the nonprofit CANDLE, Inc. when the fledgling "Reality Tour" program model was being requested by neighboring communities.
In November, the organization was presented with the 2012 Top-Rated Non-Profit Award by GreatNonprofits, a national provider of nonprofit user reviews, based on the number of positive reviews from volunteers, donors and clients.
Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits said, "We are gratified by CANDLE Inc. and its life-changing work in prevention. They deserve to be discovered by more donors looking for a great nonprofit to support."
Steven Smith, principal of Haine Middle School in Cranberry agreed.
"I've been involved with this program for the past four years," he said. "The middle school years encompass the most critical developmental stage in life. Putting kids this age in an environment where they can safely see what can happen gives them a connection to real life and teaches them how to handle such situations."
The "Reality Tour" programs also open up a dialogue for families. "Parents learn what signs to look for, which is important, because we take it for granted that when our kids are in school, they're safe," pointed out CANDLE board member John Walchesky, 56, of Butler. "Statistically, it takes two years before parents realize that their kids are using drugs and alcohol. No one wakes up one day and decides to become a junkie; it's transitional. Two years is a long time for progression.
"This is not a 'scared straight' type of program," he noted. "We help kids realize the consequences and learn how to navigate the influences and peer pressure. ... It's a partnership between parents and kids.
"No family is immune; drug abuse doesn't respect geographical boundaries; it can affect kids who get straight A's to the kids who come from broken homes," added Mr. Walchesky.
It's not uncommon for kids to want to help steer their peers away from drug abuse after experiencing a Reality Tour.
"I brought my daughter to a 'Reality Tour' five years ago, when she was in fifth grade. We signed up to become volunteers after the tour, and we've been doing it ever since," said Lisa Brown, 44, of Adams. She said one of the most powerful parts of the tour is when students from George Junior Republic School in Grove City talk to the groups about how their lives were nearly ruined by drugs.
"Here, they can see what can potentially happen," said Mrs. Brown. "With my kids, I want their friends to attend, but that's not up to me. I can only influence my own kids. Through volunteering, I can affect others."
For more information about how to sign up for a "Reality Tour" or get the program started in your community, visit www.realitytour.org.
By Mary Pickels
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013
A Murrysville man will hold a Reality Tour planning session at 6 p.m. Monday in an effort to activate the drug and alcohol awareness program in his community.
Shannon Gazze attended a Reality Tour informational session Wednesday at the Westmoreland County Courthouse.
He invited area residents to attend next week's meeting at Murrysville's municipal building.
“We are planning a fall launch,” he said.
Gazze said he hopes the tours, which feature real stories and scenarios from people affected by drugs and alcohol, can be held monthly either in a Franklin Regional School District building or the municipal building.
Gazze attended a Reality Tour at the courthouse more than a year ago.
“I've always wanted to bring it to our area. This will be an information meeting to sign up volunteers. We are looking for sponsors,” he said.
Wednesday's “Start a Reality Tour in 90 Days” was held in response to requests for information and heightened awareness of the need for prevention, following recent drug overdose deaths.
“If you have 12 people who care, you can start this program,” said Norma Norris, Reality Tour developer and nonprofit CANDLE executive director.
The training model's $3,500 fee often is funded through grants from the state attorney general's fines and forfeitures program, Norris said. Some businesses offer financial support, she said.
The Reality Tour is a “consequence-driven” prevention program for parents and children ages 10 to 18.
“Parents are the most powerful prevention tool. Parents don't always know that,” Norris said.
Earlier this month, Hempfield Area High School senior Jonathan Morelli, 18, became the latest drug overdose fatality in Westmoreland County, one of five the coroner's office has investigated this month.
The overdose deaths brought the number so far this year to 16, according to coroner Ken Bacha.
Overdose deaths in Westmoreland reached an all-time high in 2012. Bacha's deputies investigated 71 overdose deaths last year, surpassing the record of 64 in 2011, according to year-end statistics.
Active in Westmoreland County since 2007, the Reality Tour's popularity has grown to the point that waiting lists were created, Norris said.
Hempfield Area school board director Randy Stoner helped to initiate a voluntary home-drug testing program in the district and promotes Reality Tours for students.
“In 2012 the Norwin Lions Club started a Reality Tour in Irwin and is now reaching hundreds of families,” Norris said.
Mt. Pleasant recently acquired the program through the aid of its Drug Awareness Committee and District Judge Roger Eckels.
Additional school districts that partner with Reality Tour include Derry Area, Greater Latrobe, Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Jeannette.
For more information, visit www.realitytour.org, or contact Norris at 724-679-1788.