Thursday, November 3, 2005
August 24, 2005
Cascade Locks has given its teenagers a safe place to hang out three nights a week in hopes of keeping them away from drugs and alcohol.
Not only do area youth have an opportunity for social time with friends, they are also learning that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be dull.
“It’s really fun. Like, come on, there’s a lot of people you know and can talk to,” said Ryan Belles, 12.
After weeks on a learning curve, Quinton Baseman, 11, now considers himself a chess master. He greatly enjoys “checkmating” Greg Hauer, program director of Cascade Locks Interested in Kids (CLIK). Once Baseman internalized the creativity, intuition and motivation inherent in the game, he began to give his mentor some real competition.
“He is an exceptional chess player for someone so young; he has a real sense of strategy,” said Hauer, after conceding another defeat.
“I come here a lot, but not only to play chess; I like basketball, visiting with friends and watching movies, too,” said Baseman, dismissing his triumph.
Hauer believes that, after four years, the payoff of planned evening activities can clearly be seen. More kids than ever — about one third of the high school student population — have joined Operation Student Safety on the Move, a prevention program. And many teenagers no longer think that smoking marijuana is the “cool” thing to do.
“I can’t say definitively that this program is lowering the rates of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, but I can say it’s lowering the acceptance,” said Hauer.
Hauer said there are no longer groups of unsupervised teens “wandering around aimlessly” during the summer months — most are now gainfully employed. And the others are being monitored more closely by parents who have attended one or more of CLIK’s parenting classes.
“As soon as we publicize a class people call to say they are coming, and we are now getting an equal number of fathers,” said Hauer.
He is optimistic that the city is slowly overcoming its former drug and alcohol culture. Between 1997-99, state statistics showed the methamphetamine use rate among adults had risen 500 percent. In addition, a disproportionate number of local youth were showing up in the county’s teen court for offenses involving illicit drugs or alcohol. In 2002, 10 percent of six graders admitted in a school survey to drinking within the past month and 35 percent claimed to have smoked before reaching age 13. In the same survey, the use of alcohol within a one-month period climbed to 43 percent among eighth grade students, although tobacco use remained static.
CLIK was funded with a federal grant to help overcome this grim scenario. Hauer is joined in his proactive challenge by Karen Peck, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and her assistant, Pam Morse. The trio might not be able to overturn the town’s high poverty rates, but they can instill hope of a better future. As well as teach children that having fun isn’t all about money — or being under the influence of intoxicants.
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the trio opens the doors of city hall from 6 to 9 p.m. Sometimes a handful of middle and high schoolers show up and, at other times, there is a crowd of 45 or more.
The entrance fee is 25 cents, change that is used to purchase new recreational equipment. Once youth arrive, they are asked to stay at the facility until it is time to head home. Activity choices range from basketball to karaoke, card games and foosball. Also visible are handouts on topics such as safe dating and the health risks of smoking.
“One of the main things about this program is that it gives kids who are not involved in anything else a place to go,” said Hauer.
Peck has spent the past 25 years overseeing the city’s park and recreation programs. In addition she has raised six children of her own — so she is a veteran at dealing with most challenges. While she is quick to crack down on inappropriate or disrespectful language, Peck is equally ready to offer a hug and word of encouragement. But, on the special occasion when there is a dance, she strictly enforces a a “three-second rule” about hugging and air space is required between all couples.
“I’m sort of the stuffy ‘mom,’ Greg’s the ‘uncle’ and Pam is the favored ‘sister’,” said Peck. “It’s really nice that we all work together as such a good team.
Being busy three evenings a week will seem easy this fall for Hauer, Pack and Morse. They have just completed an eight week roster of summer activities for children of all ages. That program included swimming in Stevenson and Hood River, hikes, softball competitions, and taking a trip into Gresham’s Skateworld. On Friday nights during July and August, up to 51 middle and high schoolers were bused to Orchard Lanes in Hood River and invited to try their hand at bowling.
“Most of our kids are now very proud that they are drug-free. They just really like being able to spend some time together,” said Hauer.
In fact, many graduates find it difficult to be barred from attending the evening sessions. But, as adults, they are no longer allowed to join the festivities. But they are allowed to drop by and say “hello” once in awhile.
And perhaps take one last look at the exuberance of youth while making major life decisions.
Hauer, Peck and Morse hope to have instilled lessons through camaraderie that will help the city’s newest adults make good choices. They all agree that giving up their evenings is well worth the sacrifice if it increases the quality of life in Cascade Locks.