Earlier this month, more than 300 students from Utah County junior and senior high schools participated in Project Teamwork, a drug abuse prevention program sponsored by The Gathering Place and the Utah Federation for Drug Free Youth.

The program's goals are to teach students and key school personnel drug prevention strategies that they can relay to other students within their schools."The concept is to get a team at each school and teach (them) anti-drug information, how to do projects in their schools and about laws regarding drug abuse," said Dennis Hansen, executive director of The Gathering Place.

"I think usually drug users are quite open (visible)," said Steve Godwin, assistant prevention coordinator at The Gathering Place. "When we do Red Ribbon Week, or this program . . . we are making non-users open and visible. We are showing there is a group that openly (will admit it) doesn't use drugs."

Most junior and senior high schools in the county, including area vocational and alternative high schools, participated in one of the three Project Teamwork programs held in late November and early December. The day-long programs featured workshops on developing personal power, how youths can help strengthen their families, how they can encourage each other to resist peer pressure, group skill training, project development and an overview of laws governing drugs.

Susan Asher, clinical director at The Gathering Place, said learning to use personal power effectively and positively not only can help youths avoid succumbing to pressure to use drugs, but may help them reach out to those who are involved in drug abuse. Also, many use drugs in an attempt to increase their personal power, she said.

"Lots of kids use drugs to gain power," Asher said. "They are ignored, rejected and feel insignificant and invisible. Drugs seem a way to gain power, particularly over their parents. It meets their needs on the surface, but the sad part is it robs them of power in the end. They soon withdraw from mainstream activity and lose influence they may have had in school or in their families by withdrawing."

As youths who begin using drugs withdraw from mainstream associations, their feelings of invisibleness are increased. Asher encourages youths who don't use drugs to avoid letting classmates withdraw socially.

"I feel strongly that kids in school can make connections with each other across cliche groups, the druggie/non-druggie," Asher said. "If they can connect with each other, it will validate each other, and withdrawal won't happen."

An important way of connecting, Asher said, is through eye contact.

"That validates that they are here," Asher said. "It is a simple thing they can do for each other. Then add a smile, and a hello."

Thomas Holman, an associate professor of Family Science at Brigham Young University, presented the workshop on strengthening families. Holman visually demonstrates how families are interconnected, and how the withdrawal of one member causes all other members to readjust and become reconnected in a new formation - which is what occurs when a child withdraws because of drug use. The family must realign again when a child attempts to rejoin the family unit; Holman said many families try to form in their original pattern, which is not possible.

Understanding this concept may help students to work with their families as they undergo change and to support other students in changing family situations.