A group of around 50 students, teachers and community members attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the Southwest Coalition of Excellent Decision Making (SWCOED). The intended purpose of the meeting was to educate the community about underage drinking and drug abuse and to engage people in the work being done by the Coalition.
Dr. Heidi Henderson, a Crowder College professor and an addiction and substance abuse expert, was the first of two featured speakers to address the town hall audience. Henderson was assisted by Mark Barton, a recovering meth addict who is currently studying to become a substance abuse counselor.
Dr. Henderson and Barton spoke about the "21/90" program. Based on extensive research, it has been proven that if a young person can be drug free until the age of 21, there is a 90 percent chance they will never be addicted to drugs or alcohol.
The pair also spoke of the need to offer more support to those suffering from addiction.
"The first time I got in trouble it was a relief, because I thought I was finally going to get some help," said Barton. "But that didn't happen. I just bonded out and was back on the streets."
Dr. Henderson said she is anxious to set up programs where she and those enrolled in her drug addictions class at Crowder College Cassville Campus can talk to students about drug and alcohol abuse.
"We're hoping to go into Cassville and Southwest schools and talk to groups of teenagers to help them understand the consequences of their actions," said Dr. Henderson. "At this point, we need more education.
"I would love to see us go from the meth capital of the United States to the recovery capital of the US," added Dr. Henderson.
The evening's second speaker was Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Les Wilson, who is assigned to Barry County and is also a graduate of Southwest High School. Trooper Wilson showed a video entitled "How to Save a Life," which showed graphic images of deadly traffic crashes involving teenagers.
Wilson also had displayed a body bag and talked to the audience about the dangers of driving while impaired.
"The short time I've been in Barry County, I've worked five fatality accidents and every one of them was drug or alcohol related and no one was wearing a seat belt," said Wilson. "As a community, if we can come together and provide something for kids to do, maybe we can keep them out of these (body) bags."
The meeting concluded with remarks by Glen Irwin, chairman of the SWCOED.
"We are trying to raise awareness to the problems we have in Southwest School District," said Irwin. "If people don't think we have a drug and alcohol problem, they're naive.
"Take this message to your pastors, talk to your kids," said Irwin. "Tell them it's okay to not do these things (drink alcohol and do drugs).
The SWCOED includes volunteers from the Washburn and Seligman areas and involves educators, law enforcement officers, chamber leaders, business owners, parents, grandparents and churches.
The group's stated mission is "to reduce the use of drugs and alcohol and decrease bullying, personal abuse and domestic abuse among our youth." As part of its work within the community, SWCOED offers alternative activities, such as movie nights and other events, for area youth.
"We need all the help we can get if we're going to make a difference in our community," said Irwin.
For more information about the Coalition, contact Staci Day, the group's new project director, at email@example.com.