LONDON – “If it is to be, it’s up to me!”

This refrain, repeated enthusiastically by the more than 200 youth attending Monday’s (October 25) UNITE Youth Leadership Training program, served as a call to action in combating substance abuse issues throughout the region.

Representing anti-drug UNITE clubs at 11 schools from seven counties in the western part of the Fifth Congressional District, these students left the two-day training with a mission and a plan to implement “environmental prevention” within their communities.

Issues to be addressed fell within one of four key areas related to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs: 1) community norms, 2) access and availability, 3) media awareness, and 4) policy and procedures. Each activity is designed to foster personal growth, decision-making as well as addressing the local issues.

While each group’s strategy differed in scope, one theme appeared universal — “we can only fail if we do not try.”

Monday’s regional training, held at First Baptist Church in London, was the second part of a new UNITE initiative designed to train middle and high school youth to be catalysts for helping their peers make positive life choices by demonstrating leadership skills within their home communities.

Conducted by Youth To Youth International, the objective is for participants to learn and practice the qualities and skills of great leaders, to be empowered to make good choices in life, and to develop strategies for making a positive impact among their peers in school and in their communities.

During the first part of the training, conducted in September, students were engaged in discussions about their concept of leadership, the qualities and skills of great leaders, how to identify what it means to be “cool” and how they are being exploited by this concept, how to avoid burnout, and tips to continue making an impact.

“Showing up is easy,” said Ty Sells, director of training for Youth To Youth International. “If you don’t go back and utilize what you know you’re just going to be wasting your time.”

Sells, along with Youth To Youth team members from central Ohio high schools, utilized a variety of interactive games and skits to encourage students and reinforce key components of crafting a prevention program.

Founded in 1982 in Columbus, Ohio, Youth To Youth International is a model community-based drug prevention and youth leadership program. Its many projects are aimed at harnessing the powerful influence of peer pressure, making it a positive force that encourages young people to live free of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

Attending Monday’s program were students from Barbourville City Schools, Jackson County High, McCreary Academy, McCreary Central High, Monticello High, Pulaski County High, Rockcastle County Middle, Rockcastle County High, Southwestern High, Whitley County Middle and Whitley County High.

Providing assistance with Monday’s training were 20 representatives from the Chad’s Hope Teen Challenge treatment facility in Clay County.

The UNITE Youth Leadership Program is being funded through a grant from the Walmart Foundation and the Kentucky Advisory Council State Giving Program.