Sawvel trying to influence teenage drug use
Patty Jo Sawvel is under the influence, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In this case, Sawvel — a former High Point Enterprise columnist who lives in Kernersville — is under the influence of her dream to curb teenage drug use. She has seen it happen in Kernersville, and it can happen elsewhere, she says.
Sawvel shared her story in her 2011 book, “Under the Influence: The Town That Listened To Its Kids,” but now she’s looking for other opportunities to spread the word. Recently, for example, she spoke at a meeting of the High Point Rotary Club, sharing her vision for reducing substance abuse among teens.
“Something this big can only happen when you have a lot of people cooperating with a common purpose,” Sawvel said in an interview. “Profound change often hangs by the thread of one committed person, and that person is always someone who cares deeply.”
In Kernersville’s case, that thread often was Sawvel, whose series of articles in The Kernersville News called attention to the teen drug problem in Kernersville. The series even won her an award for investigative reporting.
“Almost immediately after that, though, I felt like we really didn’t change anything,” she said. “The award made me feel obligated to actually do something to be worthy of it. It’s better when you actually solve the problem.”
To that end, Sawvel helped launch a communitywide program, aimed at reducing teen substance abuse in Kernersville, that took the unorthodox approach of encouraging teenagers — who were obviously a major component of the problem — to be a part of the solution.
“Who owns the teenage drug problem? It’s the teenagers,” Sawvel explained. “So instead of being a top-down solution, this is a solution that empowers the adults and the kids. It was fascinating watching the kids go from observers to leaders. We watched these students go from caring about the problem and learning about it to taking ownership of it, and making the choice that ‘I’m gonna speak out and do what I can to help my community with this problem.’”
The result was the establishment of Kernersville Cares For Kids, a community-based program designed to help students keep themselves, their schools and their community drug-free.
The program includes a voluntary drug-testing initiative that students in Kernersville have embraced.
“It has flipped the culture to an anti-drug culture by giving kids something to rally around,” Sawvel said. “It became the cool thing to be drug-free.”
In the wake of the program’s success, Sawvel has continued to spread the message. She frequently speaks to civic organizations — “I’m speaking at any club that will have me,” she says — and her book has just been released in hardcover. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will begin using the book in its health classes, according to Sawvel. The hardcover edition also includes accompanying teen and parent handbooks.
A website has also been created, www.undertheinfluencebook.org.
“I’m doing whatever I can to get the message out there,” she said.
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Patty Jo Sawvel’s book, “Under the Influence: The Town That Listened To Its Kids,” has just been published in a hardcover edition.
It can be purchased online at www.undertheinfluencebook.org.
Sawvel is available for speaking engagements. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.