Teens say yes to fun, no to drugs

March 29, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Allison Spires, 16, and Ethan Fingerman, 17, lead by example. Drugs and alcohol aren't in their bag of things to do to have fun.

The two Howard County high school students say they realize the dangers of drug use and abstain, unlike some teen-agers who illegally dabble in alcohol, marijuana or other types of drugs.

Allison and Ethan aren't the only county teen-agers living a drug-free lifestyle, and are happy to spend time with young people such as themselves.

They are members of S.H.O.P., Students Helping Other People, a county-wide group of 400 students, with chapters at all eight county high schools, who get together to demonstrate that they don't have to use drugs to have fun.

"All of us are such good friends, and we all know we don't have to drink to have a good time," said Allison, a junior at Atholton High School.

"The good thing about it is, it's not a clique," said Rebecca Kotraba, a junior at Howard High School. "We don't exclude anyone."

S.H.O.P., founded in 1982, is intended to help fight what some studies have shown is a wave of drug and alcohol abuse among American teen-agers.

Locally, for instance, a 1992 survey by the Maryland State Board of Education found that Howard County middle and high school students saw little harm in drinking beer and wine.

The study found that 86.2 percent of the Howard County 12th-graders responding to the questionnaire said they had used beer and/or wine in the past 12 months, compared with 72.2 percent of 12th-graders across the state.

S.H.O.P. was founded at Glenelg High School, with 12 students, and now has chapters in all eight county high schools, said Tom Dohler, the program's coordinator.

Since 1985, the Howard County Health Department has sponsored the group. Originally, the Howard County Police Department was its sponsor.

The Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration provides the bulk of the funding for S.H.O.P.'s $30,000-annual budget. The group also receives financial support through its fund-raisers and through the county school system.

The group's members receive training in peer leadership and substance abuse prevention. Their motto is: "Hugs are better than drugs."

To provide county teen-agers with alternatives to using drugs, S.H.O.P. sponsors an annual New Year's Eve party, day trips, parties, and picnics. It also conducts serious discussions about drug use by teen-agers. The group's 16-member advisory board meets every other week to plan activities.

For example, the S.H.O.P. chapter at Glenelg High School will sponsor a country line dance April 8 to raise money for a West County resident, Michael Doyle, who needs a lung transplant.

Each year, S.H.O.P. participates in the National Red Ribbon Campaign, an anti-drunken driving effort, and the Prom Promise campaign, a pledge from students to attend the prom without using alcohol or drugs.

Last December, S.H.O.P. created Reality Check, a 20-member improvisational acting group that performs skits on the dangers of drug use among teen-agers.

One of the biggest excuses for underage drinking is that there's nothing to do in the county, said Ethan, a senior at Oakland Mills High School, adding that "S.H.O.P. is an alternative."

During a recent S.H.O.P. advisory board meeting, S.H.O.P. members said that, in addition to alcohol, the drugs most commonly used by teen-agers are marijuana and LSD because they are easily accessible and inexpensive.

"People don't think pot is a big thing, and think it's better than smoking [tobacco]," Rebecca said.

"They think it's cool and don't think of the consequences," added Allison.

Crissy Dispenza, 17, a senior at Hammond High School, said the media also play a role in drug use among teen-agers. She said celebrities are seen wearing pro-drug T-shirts, which lead teen-agers to think, "It's quote, unquote, 'cool' to do drugs."

And while some of their schoolmates may think they are unhip or missing something, S.H.O.P. members said their lifestyle and leadership speak volumes.

"We're not a bunch of geeks and nerds in school," Rebecca said. "We reach a lot of students."

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