The pressure to drink, smoke, vape and use other substances is always there for young people.
Messages come from music, film and other pop culture, as well as their own classmates, that using is cool. Finding activities that push back against that mindset is difficult.
A group of local students hope to give youth more fun, safe options.
“We wanted to come together as a community to spend time together and connect, free of any negative things — just a positive experience for everybody,” said Will Pruitt, a sophomore at Greenwood Community High School and member of the Empowered Youth Coalition.
The Empowered Youth Coalition have planned a teens-only free movie night at the Historic Artcraft Theatre, in an effort to give young people a substance-free night out. The organization is sponsoring a screening of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21, where middle and high school students can enjoy free popcorn, drinks and candy in addition to the movie.
Planners hope to the event serves as a celebration of youth in the community who make positive decisions, while letting them know there is an organization in their community who really appreciates and values them.
“It’s great to get together and raise awareness, even to people who are younger than you. It’s crazy that so many people want to be in this movement,” said Katie Yager, a freshman at Center Grove High School and member of the youth coalition.
The Empowered Youth Coalition is an outreach of Empower Johnson County, a community coalition that seeks to empower the Johnson County community to reduce and prevent youth substance abuse through advocacy, education, and enforcement.
From encouraging and celebrating the drug prevention campaign Red Ribbon Week each fall to offering different ways parents can approach discussing substance use, the organization is active throughout the year working to make the community safer.
Empower Johnson County came together in 2015, and participants planned events at schools and throughout the community to discuss the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and drug use. But organizers found that the message resonated with students more when it came from their peers.
“Our coalition, Empower Johnson County, recognizes that if we want to make an impact on youth in our community then we need to have youth at the table,” said Miranda Broomfield, associate community coordinator for Empower Johnson County. “We really respect the fact that youth know much more about what is going on in their schools and with their peers than we do, so Empowered Youth allows teens to help shape our messaging and ensure that we have relevant, impactful campaigns for the youth in Johnson County.”
The youth coalition was born.
“It’s basically a group of teens from all of the high schools in Johnson County where we get together and discuss issues prevalent in society for teenagers. We talk about how mental health affects us, and how we should do our best to stay off substances like alcohol and drugs,” Pruitt said.
For JoJo Ratz, a freshman at Center Grove High School, the coalition was an opportunity to make a difference among her friends and classmates.
“I wanted to help prevent the use of substances and drugs because teens in my school are participating in all of that, and for their safety, I don’t want them to do that,” she said. “It helps when teens get their voices out there, not just hearing it from adults and people older than them,” she said.
This is the second year that the Empowered Youth Coalition has sponsored a series of free movies in the community — one geared towards families, the other specifically for teens.
In planning two separate movies, organizers wanted to reach a wider audience with their message. The family movie was designed to encourage families to spend time together, building bonds and traditions, and encouraging parents to talk to their children about making healthy decisions.
This year’s family film, “The Polar Express,” sold out in about three hours.
“I hope that families in our community are able to come and enjoy a fun and free day spending time with their kids. I hope that this creates another chance for them to bond with their kids or grandkids, and open up those lines of communication,” Broomfield said. “I hope this event inspires adults to have conversations with their youth about making healthy and positive decisions.”
For the teen-centric movie, it was a chance to give kids 12 and older a way to make memories with their friends over winter break, in a way that was substance-free.
“Substance use is very prevalent in our community as a whole, and especially in high school. I wanted my peers to get the best help they can for any mental things they’re doing through,” Pruitt said.
Taking a stand against substance use can be difficult for teens, which is why events such as the teen movie night is so important, Broomfield said.
“It is not easy to be a teen in today’s world, but we have fantastic youth in Johnson County and they deserve to be applauded,” she said. “In addition, we are thrilled to be able to offer teens a fun, free, and safe event to make memories with their friends and highlight that you don’t need substances to have a great time. I hope this event is a bright spot in their winter break.”
IF YOU GO
Empowered Youth Holiday Movie
What: A free screening of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for middle and high school students ages 12 and up, sponsored by the Empowered Youth Coalition. Free popcorn, soda and candy will also be included.
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21. Doors open at 7.
Where: The Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin
How to sign up: Though the event is free, registration is required. People can do so at empowerteenmovie.eventbrite.com.