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Published: Monday, 4/8/2013

Sylvania drug prevention team wins national award

BY NATALIE TRUSSO CAFARELLO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sylvania-based America’s Pride Drug Prevention Team Toledo was awarded the 2013 National Pride Team of the Year at the 36th annual World Drug Prevention Conference held over the weekend.

More than 700 people from the 100 America’s Pride teams came from Florida, Arkansas, Maine, and other states around the country to attend the conference, which was held in South Bend, Ind. Saturday and Sunday. PRIDE Youth Programs, located in Fremont, Mich., sponsors the annual event, which recognizes one team each year that inspires youth to live drug- and alcohol-free.

America’s Pride Toledo was recognized this year for its youth-to-youth mentoring done through the Peace Project program. About 45 students from the Sylvania School District, University of Toledo, Owens Community College and Bowling Green State University advise youth in Sylvania and the Toledo area on how to make the right choices in life, and to respect themselves and others.

“Every week they reach out to peers with a positive message,” Jay DeWispelaere, president of PRIDE Youth Programs, said. “The Peace Project, a violence prevention program is what stood out, and that they have been one of our oldest drug prevention teams.

Bill Geha and Ken Newbury are co-directors of the non-profit America's Pride Toledo that Mr. Geha has organized out of his Sylvania home since 1987. The group encourages children not to give up on themselves. The Peace Project initiative puts Toledo’s youth front-and-center for struggling children to connect with. The young mentors write, direct and perform short dramas that underscore the program's message and hold preventative workshops at area schools.

The peer-to-peer mentoring works because the mentors relate their own experiences with bullying or family issues to help Toledo youth overcome their struggles, Mr. Geha said.

“One of the most powerful things we do, as we mentor the kids, we make the children part of the solution,” said Mr. Geha, who is also the prevention and intervention coordinator for Sylvania Schools.

Mr. Geha and the mentors of America’s Pride reach out to those children they know need their support. Last year they sent more than 2,000 handwritten letters to a child in Ocala, Fla. who was beaten unconscious on the school bus.

“Every time we hear [about] a child struggling, our kids write kids and tell them never to give up,” Mr. Geha said.

They recently tutored a Sylvania School District senior who was failing class and about to drop out. In the end she passed all of her classes, Mr. Geha said.

The success of the program is in its youth, said mentor and Sylvania resident Becky Perry, a junior at Southview High School.

At the age of 16 she has turned her experience with bullying into a positive tool.

“I tell the children I'm mentoring how I got through the bullying,” she said. “That helps them realize they are not alone.” Being recognized for its achievement at the annual conference means that she is making a difference in a child's life," said Ms. Perry.

As the 2013 winners, America's Pride Toledo will share its successful program with other America's Pride teams across the nation. The organization also received an all-glass trophy for its work.  

America's Pride Toledo is part of the national PRIDE Youth Programs that encourages children to live a safe, drug-free and healthy life, free of violence. For more information visit www.prideyouthprograms.org.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356 or ntrusso@theblade.com. 



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