Aberdeen Proving Ground Soldiers visited children at area Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Nov. 15, to share advice and spread a message of caution about using drugs.
The visits were part of Harford County’s second annual Night of Conversation, a time set aside to inform children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Parents and mentors are encouraged to talk to children about drugs, practice refusal skills and plan ways to escape difficult situations.
At the Aberdeen Boys & Girls Club, Capt. Adam Williams and Sgt. 1st Class James Jacobs let about 50 elementary school-aged children pick their brains and then shared messages about making good choices. Capt. Luis Revilla of the Army Test and Evaluation Command, and Lt. Col. Thomas Jarrett, from the Army Public Health Center, did the same with about 30 middle and high school-aged children in another room.
Jacobs, a father of four, said he wanted to participate in the program as a way to give back. He added that he took advantage of programs at the local Boys & Girls club in his hometown where he grew up.
The Soldiers shared personal stories and encouraged the children to remain drug-free if they wish to pursue a career in the Army or at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
They also explained the likelihood of being offered drugs by people they know. If they have tried drugs, it’s not too late to stop, Revilla told the older youth.
“There’s a lot of kids that have goals or aspirations to get a job on APG whether it’s government, being an engineer, working in biochemical field or as a Soldier,” explained Tara Lathrop, assistant manager for the Harford County Office of Drug Control. “We know that [the Soldiers] have a lot of insight [about] real life things they can tell the kids and help them with.”
According to the 2015 Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the Maryland Department of Public Health, 4.7 percent of Harford County 6th graders, 5.9 percent of Harford County 7th graders, and 8.7 percent of Harford County 8th graders self -reported that they regularly drink alcohol. The same survey revealed 2.3 percent of 6th graders, 4.5 percent of 7th graders and 9.8 percent of 8th graders in Harford County reported using marijuana one or more times during the past 30 days of the survey.
Otelia Brannigan, branch director at the Boys & Girls Club, said the children are more likely to listen to Soldiers because they admire them.
“They see them almost at the same level as celebrities,” she said. “They are pretty much famous, and they’re giving time out of their day to come here and talk to them.”
“It’s crucial, especially for our youth” she said. “If you look at the tolls, it’s hitting kids younger and younger and younger.”
Drug overdose deaths in Harford County increased from 31 in 2007 to 84 last year, according to a report from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. The number of deaths related to fentanyl grew 16 fold from 2007 to 2016, and heroin-related deaths almost quadrupled since 2007, the report said.
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