School anti-drug effort expands into community

Making her way around Jackson County last year for 25 community conversations, Tonja Couch talked to more than 300 people from a variety of backgrounds and situations.

The big question: What kind of community do people want to live in?

The answer: They want a community where people choose to live that’s healthy and vibrant with places to go and things to do, and they want to be known as a community that works together to take care of neighbors and generations.

In one of those meetings, she asked that question of Jackson County 4-H Junior Leaders to get the youth perspective. She said every conversation mentioned the drug issues.

“Part of what one of the 4-H Junior Leaders said to me was, ‘Tonja, we celebrate this thing called Red Ribbon Week every year in our school system, and no one knows what Red Ribbon Week is outside in the community,'” Couch said.

Red Ribbon Week is the largest drug prevention campaign in the nation. The purpose is to share information, engage in activities, educate and reduce risk while enhancing protection in the community.

This year, it’s designated for Oct. 23 to 31.

Because of that student’s valuable idea, Couch said she believed there was an opportunity to boost the community’s awareness and encourage everyone to share a message of drug-free living.

She reached out to the public school systems and different entities in the county to help put red ribbons throughout the county not only during Red Ribbon Week but for the whole month of October.

“We would like to celebrate an anti-drug message loudly and clearly throughout the county,” Couch said.

She recently received approval from the Jackson County Commissioners to place a “United Against Drugs” banner on the courthouse lawn in Brownstown throughout October.

“We’re working with the Brownstown Police Department to get the funding for that and have logos up there for students in Brownstown to see the organizations that support this anti-drug message as a way of showing who’s behind being united in this manner,” Couch said.

She also shared the Red Ribbon Week community leaders packet with Keith Williams at a Jackson County Drug-Free Council meeting. He is the adviser of Seymour High School’s Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter and a Seymour school resource officer.

“I knew that Seymour SADD grew the presence and community awareness last year regarding distracted driving and a different kind of high with over 93,500 impressions on social media,” Couch said. “I also knew that if students wanted the community to listen, they would listen to student leaders.”

SADD then asked business owners and community members to place red ribbons or red banners on the outside of their businesses or homes during October.

The group also obtained business and community organization sponsors to place a “United Against Drugs” banner at the former Indiana State Police post along Tipton Street or U.S. 50. Schneck Medical Center, which owns the building, has agreed to allow the banner to be displayed.

“This is a great and effective way for the community to unite against this epidemic and show that they’re ready to fight this problem together,” Williams said.

All of the Seymour schools have placed banners outside with the message “Owl always be drug-free” with a play on the corporation’s mascot.

Corporation officials also jumped on board looking at the Red Ribbon Week curriculum and developing ways to build drug-free information into lesson plans throughout the district.

Development of other plans to draw more awareness to Red Ribbon Week countywide is still happening.

“We are working on ways for families to learn more about setting rules and communicating with their children,” Couch said. “Also, we are focused on building community awareness and increasing community engagement to share the drug-free living message throughout the county.”

Williams said it’s important to have county residents come together to keep children, families and communities safe, healthy and drug-free.

“Red Ribbon Week is based on scientific principles for substance abuse prevention,” he said. “By promoting a countywide drug-free living message and with celebrating Red Ribbon Week, our community’s anti-drug use attitudes and norms will strengthen.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.