ATASCADERO — The best phrase to describe the Reality Tour hosted by the Atascadero Greyhound Foundation’s Lighthouse program is “painfully earnest.”
Following the travails of a fictional teen drug addict through a mock arrest by the Atascadero Police Department, treatment of an overdose attended by real local paramedics, and a funeral complete with the wailing grief of a bereft mother, attendees on Feb. 25 got an intervention of sorts.
Aimed at local parents with their mostly middle-school-aged children, the event was put on by more than 35 volunteers and amateur actors with a quick course on parenting and family dynamic tools and an interview follow up with a recovering drug addict.
The takeaway first and foremost, local educator D.J. Pittenger told kids, with their parents or guardians sitting next to them, was that they’re here because someone loves them.
The script with recorded narration licensed from the national nonprofit Candle, Inc. included language which seems on the surface a little over the top in its attempt to connect with teen lingo, but the dramatized scenes hit close to home for participants.
Atascadero Police Sgt. Jason Carr, whose personal experience includes having a mother stumble into the scene of her son’s fatal overdose, took part in the dramatization throughout the event but did not get up to lecture attendees.
“There’s still a lot of work to do that’s for sure,” he said. “The impact that Lighthouse has is difficult to measure but it’s certainly there.”
He added that the first contact with police, finding drugs during a routine traffic stop, and the overdose scene were both sadly typical in the community. He said he’d found the more engaging approach to have more meaning with teens than a classroom presentation.
Anecdotally, said former Atascadero Mayor and a founder of Lighthouse, Rolfe Nelson, the impact is notable because, after years of work, they no longer see the children of friends and family overdosing on the streets as he said was known to happen in the early 2000s.
Deaths from drug addiction may be a metric, but organizers know that there are sufferers in the shadows who hide their pain as long as possible. Some, like the recovered addict Pittenger interviewed, may have even been star athletes for the high school when the problem started.
Current Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno shared some of the educational experience with parents, remarking on the things she’d learned from the contraband collection maintained by the police department’s school resource officer, Michele Schamber.
Her naivete was shattered, Moreno said, by the items confiscated from teens at the high school and finding out just what and how much they were “vaping” on a regular basis, a much more potent and difficult problem to monitor than teen smoking even a decade ago.
The Atascadero Police Department, Atascadero Fire Department, Atascadero Unified School District, Atascadero Greyhound Foundation, local volunteers, and a host of community partners sponsor the tour. Parents or guardians must accompany minors and children must be at least 12 years old to attend.
The next event for 2019 is being held March 11 at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion from 5:45 to 8 p.m. Call 805-462-4350, for information.