By: Ashley Waitkus | Category: Education | Issue: February 2019
Student Sarah Talley with Artist Autumn Andrews work on their Tulsa inspired masterpiece.
The statistics are startling. A poll of 7th graders across Tulsa County shows 11% have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. 9% are already using some form of nicotine, and 6% have experimented with prescription medication belonging to someone else. A full 25% of Tulsa teens admit to binge drinking. Teenagers often see this behavior as harmless fun. However, research shows nine out of ten adults suffering from addiction started using before the age of 18. There is no socioeconomic divide when it comes to substance use. Children and teens from all backgrounds are at risk. When these behaviors lead to addiction, the toll is devastating. Substance abuse and dependence may lead to incarceration, expensive rehabilitation, health issues, other risk-taking behavior, and even death.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true with substance use. Evidence has shown youth who receive prevention messages repeatedly are substantially less likely to use drugs and alcohol. In a state with some of the highest rates of substance abuse in the nation, one organization has stepped in to reduce addiction: Operation Aware. “If we don’t do something, nothing will change. No one else is doing this level of comprehensive prevention” states Executive Director, Jeni Dolan. For 39 years, the agency has worked in schools across Green Country to prevent children and teens from engaging in dangerous behaviors. They have developed meaningful relationships with students for decades. Their method involves using evidence-based curriculum over the course of 8 weeks to reach young people, build relationships, and reduce risk-taking behavior. The curriculum doesn’t just teach what not to do. Instead, the organization teaches how to make healthy choices, handle peer pressure appropriately, and develop friendships. The consistency of the message has been shown to reduce substance use in the schools in which the agency operates.
From Jenks and Bixby to dozens of Tulsa Public and Rogers County schools, thousands of children in Eastern Oklahoma are impacted by the program. A mentorship program is also utilized to help their audience find creative outlets. Director of Development, Tara Saylor states “Based on compelling research that extracurricular involvement and mentoring helps to develop better life skills, improved communication skills, less psychosocial problems, fewer risky behaviors like drug use, increased academic achievement and less delinquency and violence, Operation Aware has, for the last six years, offered Operation A.R.T. (Awareness. Reached. Together.). Operation A.R.T. pairs students with Local Artists to create a one-of-a-kind original art piece. These pieces, created collaboratively with students and their mentoring artist, are auctioned off at our Gala to raise funds for local prevention Education.”
This year, presented by the Anne & Henry Zarrow Foundation, the Havana-themed Gala will be hosted at the Mayo Hotel. Green Country residents have the opportunity to participate in preventing addiction while also empowering A.R.T. students. Hosted by Emcee Mike Collier, the evening will start at 6 pm with a cocktail hour and auction preview. Dinner and dessert will be served in the historic venue with live entertainment and a silent auction. The beautiful, impactful evening will end with a live auction in which the masterpieces will be auctioned off. “This Gala is unique in the sense that you get to support prevention while boosting the self-worth and validating the talents of the students by purchasing their art,” says Jeni. Each piece of art is a one-of-a-kind work developed over a 2-3 month period. The process allows students to experiment with different mediums and utilize creative expression while contributing in a meaningful way to the continued work of the agency. Every auction bid affirms their value. Operation Aware invites you to be a part of this life-changing work.
“Dancing Dolphin” by Josh Stout.
The Operation Aware Art Gala wil be held at the Mayo Hotel at 115 W 5th St., Tulsa on Friday, April 26, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. Register online at www.operationaware.org/art.
Mike Collier, MC talks about his experience in Operation Aware as a youth.
Ashley Waitkus is a former mental health counselor and minister who has served in high trauma, high crisis environments for over 12 years. She has a Masters of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy; her passions include helping people heal, bringing others into a relationship with Christ, and attending festivals with her daughter.
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