Chatham Drug Free's ‘Live Above the Influence’ event encourages recovery

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Pittsboro’s George Greger-Holt has worked for decades in Chatham County serving and supporting youth and youth programs. As the community outreach coordinator for Chatham Drug Free — a position he’s held since 2013 — Greger-Holt leads the organization’s educational efforts and programming and coordinates with CDF partners on a wide array of initiatives.

This week, we talk with Greger-Holt about Chatham Drug Free’s “Live Above the Influence” event, held Oct. 11 at Jordan-Matthews High School.

A 1977 graduate of Elmira College, Greger-Holt earned a masters of education from UNC-Chapel Hill. He worked in a variety of positions for Chatham County Schools from 1991 until his retirement from CCS in 2013. He’s been the recipient of numerous awards and recognition for his work, including the GlaxoSmithKline Lifetime Achievement Award for Student Health in 2010, the Margaret B. Pollard Outstanding Community Service Award in 2009, and the North Carolina Governor’s Academy for Prevention Professionals Award of Appreciation in 2007.

What was impetus for the event?

The Live Above the Influence Recovery Celebration was originally scheduled to coincide with National Recovery Month in September and be held on North Chatham Avenue in Siler City. The event had its inaugural celebration in 2019 at a Siler City Parks and Recreation movie night, but was canceled in 2020. The reemergence of the COVID-19 Delta variant and low immunization rates caused the event to be canceled again this year.

In its place, the planning committee — made up of representatives from Chatham Drug Free, Chatham County Court Programs, Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, Chatham County Public Health Department, Chatham County Schools Central Services and Insight Human Services — approached Jordan-Matthews High School with the idea of holding a similar celebration for students and their families prior to this year’s homecoming football game.

The purpose of the celebration was two-fold. It was an opportunity to honor those who have done the hard work of quitting alcohol and/or other drugs and entered into recovery, and to provide hope for those who have yet to take that step. In addition, it was also an opportunity to help young people see that advantages of living a healthy lifestyle by not starting to use those substances in the first place.

To do that, the planning committee, along with support from J-M Principal Donna Barger and Athletic Director Josh Harris, created an event that would be both fun and informative. Along with information about the dangers of alcohol and other drug use and resources to support those who have started to use, the event featured a DJ, games and activities including an inflatable basketball, football and soccer challenge, corn hole and photo booth. 

In addition, tickets for the game and concessions were given out to students during spirit week prior to the game.

Students were also given wallet/purse cards and wrist bands with information on the Good Samaritan 911 law and the plea to “Be Kind, Leave No One Behind.” The law provides legal protection for anyone who calls 911 when in the presence of a medical emergency caused by an overdose. This campaign was developed by two Chatham County students, Elly Cummins and Bridget O’Donnell, to honor their brothers, Boone Cummins and Sean O’Donnell, both of whom died after their friends left them thinking they’d be OK.

There was also information on the dangers of vaping, opioid use, marijuana use and alcohol use along with local resources on mental health support, substance use recovery as well as vaping cessation resources available in Chatham County.

How did you partner with the county and Cardinal Innovations?

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, the mental health managed care organization that serves Chatham County and part of the Chatham Drug Free coalition, was very generous in their financial support of the event and has a vested interest in supporting the recovery of people with addiction to alcohol and other drugs. The Chatham County Public Health Department, Chatham County Court Programs and Chatham County Schools are also members of the Chatham Drug Free coalition.

Eight members of the Peer Education Program of Siler City (PEPSC), a collaboration between the Public Health Department and Jordan-Mathews High School, were on-hand during the event to talk with parents and students and share resources. They distributed medication lock boxes and medication disposal packets as well.

Why incorporate a banner — which students could sign — into the event?

The title “Live Above the Influence” was chosen to help students realize that even though there are influences in their community that might entice them to try alcohol or other drugs, there are ways to rise above that influence and commit to a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. A banner was available at the football game for students to sign, signifying their commitment to living a clean and sober lifestyle. The banner will be hung in the hallway at Jordan-Matthews to continue to collect signatures and remind students of their pledge to “Live Above the Influence.”

Living drug-free is more of a challenge than ever, given relaxed laws around marijuana and the growth of CBD. How does that impact the work you’re trying to do?

With the emerging popularity of CBD and Delta 9 and the increasing number of states voting to make either medicinal marijuana or recreational marijuana legal, youth are certainly getting mixed messages. This is contributing to an attitude of decreased perceived harmfulness, that is, youth are less and less likely to believe that marijuana use is harmful when it isn’t further from the truth.

Adolescent brains continue to develop, even beyond the age of 21, the legal age for alcohol consumption and marijuana consumption in states that have legalized the drug for recreational use. The introduction of these chemicals into that development has been proven to have detrimental and long-lasting effects.

Parents and community members, along with coaches, clergy and other adults of influence, must continue to talk to youth about the dangers of these drugs in spite of the recent changes in some state’s laws.

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