The Ram Council Foundation, an organization built around a group of NCHS students who lead substance-free lives, is scheduled on the night of Thursday, March 31 to hold a panel discussion, “The Power of Prevention: Success Stories and Strategies for Healthy Teen Years.” The question-and-answer session will feature panelists such as New Canaan First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and St. Luke’s School Headmaster Mark Davis. NewCanaanite.com recently caught up with Ram Council President Joyce Sixsmith to talk about the group and this event specifically.
Here’s our exchange.
New Canaanite: Talk to us about the genesis of the Ram Council. When did it start, and why?
Joyce Sixsmith: The Ram Council began four years ago, when the New Canaan High School hired me as a consultant to implement a substance abuse prevention group for their students, as an extracurricular club at the High School. It has since grown into a separate entity—a foundation and a nonprofit organization called the Ram Council Foundation, Inc. I had been working in New Canaan since 2002 as the Coordinator of the New Canaan Coalition and the Asset Coordinator, and thereafter as a consultant with NCHS for their leadership council, providing assemblies on substance abuse prevention to underclassman and hosting yearly forums for the football team. I wanted to create something more specific, a group for teens (with a parent component) who chose a substance free lifestyle. Their goal would be to gain support from one other, host substance free activities for members; and provide educational forums for youth, families and professionals that promote healthy decision making for young people in New Canaan. It has grown to a membership of 81 active members.
High school kids who participate in Ram Council are self-selecting. What is it that makes them want to join, would you say?
I believe there are many NCHS students who don’t drink, and just need a place to come together, with other like-minded peers. The Ram Council provides an avenue for teens who don’t want to engage in underage drinking, or experiment with drugs. Our council provides monthly dinner meetings, and a time to bond with other kids who they might not typically socialize with. Further, we provide substance-free activities, healthy alternatives to substance abuse, and an opportunity to build leadership skills through hosting our educational forums. The positive energy in the group has built confidence among our members to make healthy decisions. These NCHS students now know they are not alone in their substance-free choices, and they stand tall together. They refer to their movement as “The New Reality.” Substance Free living is considered “cool,” to our students. They are clearly making a cultural change in their community.
We’re hearing a lot more recently about alcohol and drug prevention efforts in town, including a lot about heroin. In your view, what are the most important strategies for prevention of substance abuse among youth?
The most important strategies for prevention among youth is to start speaking to them early and consistently. It is important to send clear messages to teens on the importance about obeying the law, where alcohol and minors are concerned; the effects alcohol , marijuana and other substances can have on one’s brain, body and soul. Our youth need to know about the consequences of chemical use in terms of their academics, their extra-curriculars, and their future. I also encourage parents, whose families have a genetic predisposition to addiction, to share that with their teens, so that they are better prepared to understand why they may be at more of a risk. Parents need to be strong but loving when they talk with their children, and the talks and prevention need to be ongoing through college. Teens need parents to be emotionally and physically present to them. They need family dinners, and private time to talk with their parents, about how to combat stress and maneuver their high school years. Parents should serve as positive forces to coach their teens toward substance free living and other necessary healthy decisions during their teen years.
Talk about this event specifically. Why did you put together this particular panel?
The goal of our annual Spring Community Forum was to focus on heroin prevention (the Ram Council is part of the New Canaan Coalition). We wanted to do follow up to our successful event, “Suburban Junkie,” which we hosted in January at Town Hall to keep the conversation going. The Ram Council Foundation felt that if we recounted stories that brought to life how heroin has affected families it could make a difference. An expert panel could be formed: including First Selectman Mallozzi, to speak on the town-wide effort on substance abuse prevention for NC youth; Jamison Monroe, Founder and CEO of Newport Academy, to speak about the importance of getting treatment if a parent suspects a substance abuse issue; Maud Purcell , Director of The Life Solution Center of Darien , on how to build strong parent-teen alliances as a means of prevention; and finally, our Ram Council members who will boldly share why they choose substance free living, and how they maintain that choice during their high school years.
Give us a sneak preview: What’s one story from a panelist at this event that people in New Canaan may be surprised to hear?
In my eyes the highlight of the evening will surely be the gift of the personal stories and how families can all learn from them. Mark Davis, Headmaster of St. Luke’s School, New Canaan will speak about his son’s battle and recovery with heroin and how it affected the family. Joe Greenfield, Outreach, Turning Point, will also share his personal battle with opiates and his road to wellness. We are so grateful for their participation in our upcoming event.
For more information on the event contact Joyce Sixsmith, MA,LADC, President at firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-678-0543. To make a donation to Ram Council Foundation please make checks payable to Ram Council Foundation, Inc. PO Box 1724 New Canaan CT 06840