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SAFE Youth advisor Deb Swanson (left) and (from left) Emily Kukacka, Audrey Dekock and Meghan Watkins shave and cut up apples to put into a pie that the SAFE Youth group will then deliver to Grace Place in Somerset for Thanksgiving. (Photo by Jordan Willi)

SAFE Youth group gives back to the community

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Five years ago, a group of students at New Richmond High School decided that the Arrive Alive program they were a part of wasn’t exactly what they were looking for when it came to promoting an alcohol-free lifestyle for high school students.

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“Students started coming to me saying that there were students in Arrive Alive that think it is alright to drink, but that it is not OK to drink and drive. They did not like that, and thought that it wasn’t OK,” SAFE Youth advisor Deb Swanson said. “The kids felt like we were sending a mixed message about it so these students said that they wanted to start a group where it is not okay to drink. That is how they came up with this group and the acronym of Support an Alcohol-Free Environment for our Youth.”

The students made a pledge to be alcohol- and drug-free while making good choices in their everyday lives.

As part of their work to promote group, SAFE Youth members meet at least once a month to do some kind of activity to give back to the community as well as get the SAFE Youth name out into the community.

“Every month we try to do some type of ‘activism,’ as we like to call it, where we give back to the community,” Swanson said. “The activism can be something that we do out in the community or even in the school for our students.”

On Thursday, Nov. 21, the group got together in the high school’s food preparation rooms to bake pies for Thanksgiving.

“We are baking Thanksgiving Day pies to bring to Grace Place, and then we will have a student drive the pies over for those families,” Swanson said. “We are also creating cards for members in the community who have been strong supporters of SAFE Youth to thank them for their support.”

Among the many community groups that support the SAFE Youth program are the New Richmond Police Department and New Richmond Fire & Rescue, Swanson said.

“The group seemed like it was a nice way to spread the alcohol-free message that I think is a good one,” SAFE Youth member Meghan Watkins said.

Over the years, the group has grown from 12 members to more than 100 students who have taken the pledge to be alcohol-free and make a positive difference in the lives of others while supporting the mission of SAFE Youth.

“We’ve went from 12 members to 20 members, to 50, to 75 and now we are over 100 members strong,” Swanson said. “In addition to the students we have involved, there is a large number of community members who have helped us out over the years. And that is who we are making cards for at this activity meeting today.”

The students themselves have many different reasons for joining the group, but for the most part they all like the idea of having some place to go to be around other people who support an alcohol and drug free lifestyle.

“It is good to have a group that is supported by a lot of people and that has a lot of activities to get out in the community,” member Audri Dekock said. “It is especially nice to have this group for sports players who want to stay alcohol-free.”

The SAFE Youth group will continue to meet throughout the school year to take part in different activities within the school and throughout the community. As the advisor to the group, Swanson knows how dedicated they are to the SAFE Youth message and to promoting it throughout the community.

“We just want to be present and have these kids show their peers that they have taken this pledge to be drug- and alcohol-free,” Swanson said. “These kids have good, strong character and are good role models for the other students.”

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Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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