Kira Brewer is full. Full of laughter, smiles and dreams. She enjoys photography, writing poetry and drawing. Life is full of positives and pitfalls which can include drugs, alcohol abuse, and financial difficulties.
Enter the East Feliciana Drug and Alcohol Council. The council strives to help cultivate dreams and overcome the obstacles that often stand in the way. Kira, 13, is one of many young people attending a summer camp that offers classes and small group engagements that the board hopes will serve as a proactive outreach to youth in the community.
Kira and her peers spent a recent summer day making tote bags using sewing machines. Between sewing, making new friends, and smiling a lot, Kira held the folded original artwork tightly in her pocket. “He’s an online character,” she said. “When he has to do chores, he gets angry.”
The future for even sweet and adorable teenagers isn’t always rosy. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 47% of teens will have used an illegal substance by the time they graduate from high school. An estimated 863,000 American teenagers need drug treatment but do not receive it.
These sobering facts make early intervention crucial. Program coordinator Rhonda Torrence said the East Feliciana Drug and Alcohol Council is a community outreach agency. Torrence worked for West District Attorney Feliciana Parish and often attended drug council meetings when he was unavailable. The need for a similar agency in East Feliciana was recognized, and several years later Torrence began working with Ricky Collins, the DEA’s Office Victims Coordinator, to lay the foundation for the current council.
The board initially worked with the school system to provide funding for the summer months. Fundraising was on a small scale at first, but in its 12th year the council has brought more than $1.5 million to the parish through grants.
“We are currently operating on a drug-free federal community grant, and we are in our seventh year of funding over 10 years,” Torrence said. “Our main focus is drug prevention, and it’s easier to do prevention than to do detox or something like that.”
Maurene Selders and Ginger Wilkins are community liaisons with the Drug Council working on year-round programming and hands-on workers during summer camp sessions. In addition to the week-long sewing classes, the campers took a cooking and nutrition class the week before.
Selders and Wilkins teach some sessions and act as substitutes when a specialist teacher is in place, such as in sewing classes. Group discussions focus on drug awareness and financial literacy in addition to longer class projects.
Wilkins said she thinks it’s important for summer camp to create new social connections for campers. “It’s an opportunity to get to know each of their personalities, and they’ve gotten to know each other very well, and I feel like these kids will stay connected even though they come from different parts of the ward,” said she declared. “We have homeschooled kids, we have charter school kids and we have kids from each of the different schools in the parish, so it gives them a chance to mix and make new friends. .”
Kira isn’t new to sewing or camps, but she said she can see the unique benefits of Drug Council summer camp. “I’ve been to summer camps before, but this one is a lot more fun than the others I’ve been to,” she said. “It’s a really nice place because we can watch movies and run around outside. And sew and cook – I’ve never done that at summer camp before.
14-year-old Derrick Morris is learning new things that young men typically miss, like his sewing projects. “I make a tote bag and it’s pretty simple and I like the concepts,” he said. “It’s the first time I saw it, so I did a few things but of course you are a bit slower, unfortunately. But I appreciate this process.
Torrence works closely with program director Darriell Hinton and the two community liaisons, a secretary, treasurer and board members. The group has been meeting virtually for some time, but in-person meetings will resume in August and plans are underway to move to new offices with more space.
To learn more about the functions and activities of the Drug Council, visit https://www.efdrugcouncil.org.