Belle Vernon Area program aims to combat addiction

One of the goals of the Belle Vernon Area Reality Tour is to help youth avoid giving in to peer pressure to use drugs

One of the goals of the Belle Vernon Area Reality Tour is to help youth avoid giving in to peer pressure to use drugs

The Belle Vernon Area (BVA) Reality Tour is a parent and child drug education program designed so attendees take a “walk through the life – and death – of a teen on drugs.”

The program was founded in Butler, PA about thirteen years ago by CANDLE (Community Action Network for Drug-free Lifestyle Empowerment), Inc., and has spread internationally. Through a licensing agreement, it is based in Belle Vernon and presented at Belle Vernon Area High School. While it is not a traveling production, it is open to all Mon Valley school district parents and students. It has received strong local support and many private donations. The Rostraver Lion’s Club is the presenting organization. Other sponsors include Mon Valley Hospital, BVA Ministerium, Monessen Lion’s Club, Belle Vernon Rotary, and the Belle Vernon Homes for the Holidays Tour.

The two-and-a-half hour evening program includes an opening presentation and a twelve minute video followed by four dramatic scripted scenes that trace the development of an addict: Peer pressure, where an older child tries to convince a younger child to use drugs; arrest and jail, in which a member of the audience is arrested; an emergency room, with an addict who overdoses, requiring CPR; and finally, a funeral.

The production’s realism is heightened by the authenticity of its participants. Law enforcement officials detail local drug trends and share a PowerPoint presentation of drugs and drug paraphernalia. A recovering addict and the parent of an addict speak of their experiences. Local EMS fills roles in the emergency room segment and a funeral director appears in the final one. There are student volunteers as well, and some receive community service credit for their involvement.

Parents and students who attend must walk past a closed casket (which was donated) to complete the dramatic portion of the program. “We don’t use scare tactics, we are sharing a reality that we are seeing every day in our schools, our churches,” explained Celeste Palamara, who licensed the Reality Tour presentation for this area and serves as its director. “Parents are the best prevention tool if they are educated. This is what is missing in other programs. We must understand that drugs do not discriminate. It’s affecting all levels of our society and doesn’t exclude anyone. We need as many people as possible to join our community and be a part of the solution.”

Palamara speaks from personal experience – she has a son who is in recovery. “I am a nurse, and I didn’t know what to look for. Many healthcare pros don’t know what to look for. On average it takes two years to recognize a problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control we are in the midst of an overdose epidemic. Pennsylvania has the 14th highest overdose death rate in the country. We are third in the nation in heroin use. The age of experimentation begins at twelve so this program is for ages 10-17, and they must be accompanied by a parent. The Reality Tour is just one part of the overall solution.”

There are generally 30-35 parents and children at each event. The audience is limited to encourage participation. The response has been encouraging. “We have had 100% positive feedback,” Palamara said. “Participants tell us to please keep doing this program, we’ve learned a lot. If I can help one person, one addict, one family to not go through the nightmare of a child with an addiction, I will do it.”

The Reality Tour requires a small registration fee (which may be waived in some instances) and runs through the school year, September – April. Seating is limited. Please visit the BVA Reality Tour Facebook page for a registration form and more information: facebook.com/BVArealitytour
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Story by Rosemary Capanna for Pennsylvania Bridges