HoCo Grad and Former TAC Member Reflects on HC DrugFree

One of our long term Teen Advisory Council members, Malhar, is a part of our college student team teaching our Life Skills class that begins next week. In the essay below, he outlines his experience with HC DrugFree, Life Skills, and the impact both have had on his life.

Academic and professional life has been increasingly changing in Howard County, with more students on social media and having access to more information and experiences than ever before. While this does enable better communication and interactions, it’s increasingly risky when it comes to making safe decisions regarding alcohol, safe communication, and drug use. School curriculums try to address these issues through mandatory health classes, but as a student who’s been through the school system, they make little lasting change because it’s more about “information” over “application”. I really didn’t understand how the concepts we learned were applied in real life and my first exposure to learning about this was when I joined HC DrugFree in high school.

I can honestly say that HC DrugFree’s program made a huge impact on my life throughout high school and college. When I first got to high school over 5 years ago, I had no idea what extracurriculars to do, what volunteer opportunities felt right for me, and how to even build my interpersonal skills. Freshman year I joined so many clubs and volunteer roles in a desperate search for something that aligned with my interests. I found HC DrugFree through the Howard County government website and signed up to go to their Teen Advisory Council (TAC) meetings, knowing nothing about the organization. Over the course of several meetings and Drug Take Back days across four years, I found that this was one of the few experiences I was doing where I could truly see the impact that was being made, whether it be the thousands of pounds of medications removed at Take Back events or students engaging and asking thoughtful questions at Life Skills classes. My younger brother, who used to tag along to Take Back days, even joined TAC after I graduated, because he saw how much I enjoyed it and grew from it.

One of the core reasons I became involved with Life Skills classes was that I believe that the program bridges the essential need that students have to be educated on safe decision-making and addressing issues that are pertinent to our generation. While schools were still telling us cigarettes and alcohol were the leading culprits, our generation was facing new threats from social media, opioids, and vaping. Beyond that, Life Skills classes taught important lessons in communication, self-esteem, and mental health that even I’ve applied and grown from. By being taught by college and high school students, it makes sure that information is genuine, current, and conveyed through a trusted and safe medium that students can trust.

When I came to college, I thought I would never have to apply many of the lessons learned, as long as I followed safe decision making. However, this wasn’t the case, as I often found myself advising peers on healthy communication, refusal skills, and even first aid and noticing early symptoms of alcohol poisoning. It reminded me that information never goes to waste and that being aware is one of the strongest resources in life, and it’s why I continue to be involved with HC DrugFree and the Life Skills program. I’ve been able to apply my public speaking and communication skills at internships, and use the teaching experience to build my leadership with similar clubs and organizations.

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