Thanks to a generous grant from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), the Safe and Sober program will be expanded from 35 to at least 150 school districts this year. Safe and Sober, a non-profit organization that operates under the Mercy Health Foundation-Springfield, creates awareness about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and encourages teens to lead a safe and sober lifestyle. The program was founded in 2004 by Springfield attorney Kurt Larson as Safe and Sober Prom Night. Since its inception, the program has reached nearly 50,000 students in southwest Missouri. This year, the $130,000 that MoDOT has designated for the program will also allow high school students to share the Safe and Sober message with middle school students.
The Safe and Sober program operates using a three-part strategy. First, it provides education to parents about the dangers and consequences of underage drinking, including alcohol's effect on the developing teenage brain. The program provides educational materials that help parents talk to their children about drugs and alcohol and set limits and expectations for their teens. Second, teens participate in a video-based presentation that shows the consequences of underage drinking and how it can impact their future. Students are then asked to sign the Safe and Sober pledge, a commitment to their family, friends and themselves that they will remain safe and sober until they are 21 years of age. A parent or guardian must also sign the pledge to acknowledge that they are aware of the commitment that has been made by the student. Third, high school students are asked to share with middle school students the reasons they took the Safe and Sober pledge. They are also asked to share information with the younger students about the culture of high school that does not include alcohol.
Cassville High School has participated in the Safe and Sober program for a number of years. Not only does the program work to motivate students to remain drug and alcohol free on prom night, but it also gives students an opportunity to win cash rewards for their school. The high school with the highest participation in each size-based category can win up to $1,000. Schools that get 70 percent pledge participation but do not win the top prize in the category are entered into a drawing for 10 $500 cash prizes. The rewards are designed to promote healthy competition between schools and inspire students to encourage their peers to take the pledge and remain drug and alcohol free during the weeks, days and hours leading up to prom.
MoDOT has done its part by increasing the amount of funding available to provide districts with free videos, pledge cards and promotional materials. It is my hope that all area school districts will take advantage of MoDOT's commitment and plan to participate in the Safe and Sober program this year. For more information on how to implement the program, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 417-631-4009 or visit www.missourisafeandsober.com.