Student-athletes at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School on Wednesday were given lessons on the importance of faith, commitment and accountability in avoiding the pitfalls of substance abuse.
The dangers of opiods, including the nationwide impact of addiction, were shared with the student-athletes during the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' One Way 2 Play - Drug Free! program held in the O-W auditorium.
"We have a tremendous concern in our community about substance abuse, especially opiods. It's killing people, and few people know about it. And we're hoping that by doing a One Way to Play Drug Free program, we're creating awareness not only among the students, but in the community," said Rev. Earl Humes, area FCA representative.
"A big concern we have is the relationship between police officers who serve and protect and our students. We just want students to know that these people love them, care about them. ... They do serve and protect. So we're hoping that we can create an awareness and the respect between our community and our police officers," Humes added.
Lt. Marty Journey, head of the narcotics division of the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office, was one of the speakers at the program, which concluded with a pizza party and a challenge for students to sign a commitment card saying they will be alcohol and drug free.
Journey shared information from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
"In 2009, an estimated 21.8 million Americans aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This estimate represents 8.7 percent of the population aged 12 or older," he said, noting that illicit drugs included marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants and prescription-type psychotherapeutics used non-medically.
Journey said while he had partied hard in his youth, it took hard work and perserverance for him to go back to school and advance in the law enforcement field.
"Eventually, I went back to get my education at OCtech and got an associate's degree in criminal justice. Then I went on at night and took classes at Claflin University and got my bachelor's degree in criminal justice," he said.
He told the students that "one little mistake" with drugs could derail their entire career.
"And then you want to blame everyone. A lot of times you have to look in the mirror and say, 'Hey, who made that decision?'" he said.
Journey told the students that it is possible to form positive relationships with law enforcement to obtain help and advice.
"Ninety-nine percent of all law enforcement is here to serve. ... We all have issues, and we all have problems," he said.
OCSO Investigator Rob Boyn shared information about his own troubled past, including having an alcoholic father and often not having anything to eat in the refrigerator.
He said his faith in God helped him through the tough times, noting that when God opens doors, "you have to be smart enough to go through."
Boyn emphasized the importance of forging positive relationships between the community and law enforcement.
"Don't ever be afraid to come up to talk to us," he said, noting that drug addiction is a "beast" to deal with and a reality that can be addressed with initiatives like Wednesday's program.
"You can change the outcome of your life," Boyn said, adding that he hoped the program would inspire youth to think about good decision-making as well as view law enforcement officers less negatively.
"I hope that it maybe starts a thought process, maybe that it starts a conversation. I think that getting a conversation started is what we lack a lot of times. Once you get a conversation started and get people engaged, we can a find a solution to what's going on," the OCSO investigator said. He said Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell had worked hard to address the stigma that youths sometimes associate with law enforcement.
Law enforcement is about more than just locking people up, he said.
"That's where the Sheriff works hard. We're trying to break that stigma because most of the people that do this job come because we care about people," Boyn said.
O-W junior Lydia Chapple, a member of the school's Cross Country track team, said she appreciated the information that was shared at the program, including the personal stories shared by the officers.
"I appreciate them a lot because some adults don't tell their stories or their backgrounds. I learned to not do drugs," Chapple said.
She had advice for her peers who may be facing problems with drugs, peer pressure, bullying or other issues at school.
"Talk to a coach, the police or a teacher you respect or trust," she said.
Dr. Geb Runager, who has dedicated much of his time to assisting Humes in his work with area young people and serving on the FCA board, told the students he hoped they would remain drug-free.
"I'm here because I love you and I love the Lord even more," Runager said. "Our mission is to assist you in eradicating the threat of substance abuse on our campus. ... You are going to serve the rest of the students in this student body, doing away with substance abuse on our campus."