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Tucked away in an office on the property of the Crossroads Club of Delray Beach, big things are happening at Living Skills in the Schools (LSIS), a community-based program for youth substance abuse prevention.
Founded 18 years ago by long-time Crossroads Club member Tony Allerton, LSIS is now licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families, and provides free educational resources and programming to schools throughout Palm Beach County.
In a video about LSIS’ founding, Allerton spoke of his sobriety and his involvement with the Crossroads Club, which eventually led to the creation of LSIS.
“I tell the students: if you never start down the drug path, you never have to worry about getting addicted,” said Allerton.
From humble beginnings to a now-expansive reach, LSIS has impacted thousands of children throughout Palm Beach County.
Executive Director Suzanne Spencer anticipates that the program will only continue to grow.
Spencer has a storied background in substance abuse prevention, and has been working with the LSIS program for three years. Along with her staff, Spencer is driven to help South Florida’s kids—particularly during a time when drug-related topics dominate headlines on a daily basis.
“I am passionate about making changes—whether it be in the education system or in the substance abuse arena. A message of prevention is powerful,” said Spencer. “The need [for a program like this] is greater than ever.”
Similarly motivated by the growing need for education, Program Director Ivy Hinson states that her passion emanates from knowing that these programs could ultimately “change the course of a child’s life.”
Under Spencer’s leadership, LSIS programming has evolved tremendously. With several initiatives hosted within the program, LSIS reaches students from kindergarten to college-age—an estimated 25,000 students per school year.
As schools tend to lack prevention programming, many students and teachers in the community rely on LSIS as a resource—a service that Spencer and her team are thrilled to provide.
LSIS thrives upon the concept of repetition: presenting crucial information to kids early—and often.
With this in mind, LSIS organizes several sessions per year with each school, camp, or afterschool program to allow lessons to be better internalized.
“Our kids need the support: the education, the skills, the tools, the resources,” said Spencer.
In order to differentiate programming, LSIS hosts several different types of educational sessions, including Recovery Speakers and Drug Trend Education.
For children in grades K-4, LSIS offers a program called BABES (Beginning Awareness Basic Education Studies). BABES features puppetry shows that focus on decision-making, self-image, coping skills, and medicine and candy lookalikes, among other issues. In grade 5, students are introduced to Recovery Speakers.
The Recovery Speakers program lends the stage to young adults with a minimum of two years of sobriety. These speakers are able to deliver a message of prevention to groups of students who respond well to learning from peers.
Through sharing stories of recovery with students, speakers impart personal experiences regarding consequences associated with substance abuse—including family impact and decision-making. Accompanied by a representative of LSIS, speakers are able to field students’ questions after the presentation, encouraging an open dialogue about topics that are so often kept under wraps.
In another facet of the program, LSIS teams up with certified addictions professionals in the community to provide age-appropriate Drug Trend Education in the schools.
Christopher Pasquale, Director of Operations at RECO Intensive, has participated in LSIS as a Drug Trend speaker, most recently presenting to a group of 700 high schoolers.
“This is a great program because it gives young people the opportunity to have these conversations, as most often they don’t want to talk to parents or teachers,” stated Pasquale.
In past sessions, Pasquale has presented on flakka, heroin, and other trending topics.
With an extensive history working in the substance abuse field, Pasquale couples his knowledge base with his personal motivation to aid the community in its prevention efforts.
“The LSIS program gives us the opportunity to begin prevention early on—sometimes even before students have been exposed to substance use,” said Pasquale.
Presentations like Pasquale’s focus on the hard facts surrounding substance use, and offer a different perspective from the Recovery Speakers.
Spencer envisions a bright future for LSIS—one that will have the potential to impact more students than ever before.
Both Spencer and Hinson would love to see LSIS expand into other counties—furthering the message of prevention to areas that need it. As a free resource, LSIS relies on funding to run their programs, and works closely with governing organizations and community leaders to ensure that Palm Beach County students are receiving the appropriate drug education.
“We want schools and families to know that we are here to help,” said Spencer.
“With programs like LSIS, the focus shifts to the prevention efforts that are being done in our community every day,” said Pasquale.
Read more about Living Skills in the Schools here.
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