Monthly Archives: February 2014

Let’s not jump the gun with marijuana legalization in Georgia

By ELLEN GERSTEIN, Gwinnett Health and Human Services,
and ARI RUSSELL, Gwinnett United in Drug Education

LAWRENCEVILLE, Jan. 31, 2014 — It’s all we hear: “Let’s legalize marijuana.” Or “What harm can it do?” 

Gerstein RussellMarijuana legalization proponents are tugging on our heartstrings by highlighting how critical medical marijuana is for certain individuals. This seems like a new argument, but it’s not. Since the 1970s, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has been supporting medical marijuana laws as the best strategy to achieve overall legalization of the drug. Their ploy has worked. Public support for legalization has increased.

But there is more to the story than this. Don’t be fooled by social media posts that discard concerns about the drug. These very vocal proponents of legalization are sharing their opinions, not facts.

To say that marijuana is no worse than alcohol is like saying that being murdered by a gun is no worse than being murdered by a knife. Alcohol is addictive; so is marijuana.

Driving while intoxicated is dangerous; so is driving stoned. The earlier you start drinking, the more likely you will become dependent; ditto for marijuana. Today’s pot is stronger than ever, increasing problems associated with it. Pot negatively affects perceptions, coordination, motivation, memory and learning. Teens who smoke marijuana regularly may actually experience a permanent reduction in IQ. Marijuana use by high school seniors has doubled since the drive to legalize medical marijuana began in earnest because their perception of harm has changed.

Since Colorado first legalized medical marijuana, it has been among the top seven states for marijuana use, especially in the 12-25 age groups. During the first four years, fatal marijuana-related car crashes doubled while overall fatal crashes went down. Last year, they legalized pot for recreational use. In only a few months, 27 percent of impaired drivers tested positive for marijuana, a seven point jump.

Marijuana-related suspensions/expulsions from school have almost doubled statewide. Colorado bureaucrats supported legalization thinking the tax revenue would be beneficial. However, there is still a huge black market trade of marijuana because it’s cheaper than store-bought pot. As with alcohol and tobacco, they soon realize that taxes are not going to offset the cost of problems associated with increased use like health problems, addiction treatment, school and college dropout, traffic injuries and deaths and more.

Cannabidiol, the part of marijuana used in medicine, isn’t smoked and doesn’t get you high. It has been available in pill and oil form for years. It would be more prudent to make these available by prescription to patients who really need them rather than legalizing marijuana and allowing dispensaries in Georgia.

In states that allow dispensaries, more than one-third of 12th-graders reported getting their pot from someone else’s medical marijuana recommendation. If this happens in Georgia, we will certainly see the same increases in teen use, addiction, traffic fatalities and related problems as they have seen in Colorado and other medical marijuana states.

Do you really want to make marijuana more available to youth, contend with drivers impaired by the drug, and see your employees’ work performance negatively affected?


What’s Your Favorite Color?


Did you know that the color of the foods you eat can tell you what benefits those foods have? What does it mean if you eat a lot of red foods? Or yellow foods? Each has different benefits and can help your body in unique ways.

To find out what benefits different colors offer your health, check out this month’s issue of “Inspired” by clicking here or on the image.

Volunteers Needed! Make it Matter at #GeorgiaTI2014

Starfish-G_MakeItMatter-Bl_WEBGeorgia Teen Institute will be celebrating its 26th year this summer, but it cannot happen without all of our fabulous volunteers. Our volunteers make everything possible! Are you interested in volunteering and to really Make it Matter this summer? As a member of the GTI Volunteer Staff, you would be part of the reason that GTI runs smoothly, makes a difference in so many lives and is so incredibly successful.

All of our staff work around the clock and are possibly the greatest group of youth, young adults and adults the state of Georgia has to offer. Our GTI 2014 Youth and College Age Staff have been selected – but we still need YOU to join us!  If you are interested and would like to be a volunteer, you should fit the following requirements:

  • Be at least one year out of high school
  • Be tobacco and other drug free
  • If you are over the age of 21, and choose to use alcohol, you do so responsibly
  • Satisfactorily complete a fingerprinting process
  • Be able to participate in some (or all) of GTI 2014

Volunteer GTI BlogPlease consider filling out the volunteer application that you will find here!  There are a number of ways that you can volunteer with GTI, based on your experience and availability. Some examples can include the facilitation of team building activities, greet workshop presenters, help staff our Georgia Tot Institute, take pictures and zillions of other behind-the-scene jobs.

GTI 2014 will take place at Oxford College in Oxford, Georgia on the following dates:

  • Staff Report/Training Weekend:  Friday, June 6 – Sunday June, 8
  • Week 1 of GTI 2014:  Monday, June 9 – Thursday June, 12
  • Week 2 of GTI 2014:  Tuesday, June 17 – Friday June 20


Fill out your application today!  Our Volunteer Liaison, Elliott Walker, will contact you as soon as we receive your application to set up your interview. Hurry, the deadline is May 1!

Don’t miss the opportunity to positively impact lives of hundreds of youth and adults from across the state of Georgia. Join our staff in engaging youth in pertinent issues such as the prevention of underage drinking, bullying, tobacco use, and teen pregnancy and the promotion of community engagement and volunteerism. Additionally, you will gain valuable leadership skills, experience and a new network of people who share a similar passion.

We look forward to receiving your application soon!

GUIDE YAB Gets a Fresh Start in 2014

GUIDE, Inc. Youth Advisory Board (YAB), made up of 15 high school students in Gwinnett County, seeks to create positive community change. Five of our YAB members attended a leadership program this past summer, Georgia Teen Institute. While they were at camp, the group utilized the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) to create an Action Plan in order to facilitate said change. Their Action Plan included a town hall meeting for youth dedicated to providing an alcohol-, tobacco- and other drug-free activity, illustrating that students can have a lot of fun living a substance-free life.

1544430_728298090513527_1309635970_nWhen the YAB held their first meeting of the year in August 2013, members reviewed the Action Plan and the SPF process began. Because of the great detailed work that took place at Georgia Teen Institute, the YAB jumped right back into the planning process. Members worked hard to plan the event by seeking community sponsors, recruiting for high school student leaders to attend and addressing event logistics. YAB chose the title, “Fresh Start Town Hall Meeting” to demonstrate the ability teens have to start over with new perspectives and behaviors. The Fresh Start Town Hall Meeting took place on Saturday, January 11, 2014 from 6:30 – 11:30 pm.

YAB members were very appreciative of the support of J.M. Tull-Gwinnett Family YMCA. YAB partnered with the YMCA, who provided the space for the Fresh Start Town Hall Meeting. The facility was the perfect location for the event! The YMCA also provided the keynote speaker, Wes Bender. He was a huge hit with all of the participants and shared many “tools for their toolboxes” and lots of laughter!

1536510_728297917180211_773898651_nThe workshops at Fresh Start were both informational and engaging. Officer Rooks from the Gwinnett County Police Department facilitated a workshop on how important decision making is in a young person’s life. He also provided a great deal of laughter, along with lots of important information on the dangers of underage drinking and drug use. Two YAB members, Maya and Charlene, facilitated a team building workshop. They did a fantastic job leading the group in leadership activities while focusing on the Fresh Start theme. They shared significant knowledge with the participants, encouraging them that a new year is a great time to turn over a new leaf. During free time, participants enjoyed using the YMCA facilities including racquetball, Zumba and the Teen Center.

1526757_728297837180219_157327317_nThe event wrapped up with a skit written and performed by YAB members. During the skit, YAB provided reasons why youth should make positive choices and how they can share this information with their peers in a fun, easy to understand way. Much like Georgia Teen Institute, YAB members provided door prizes and energizers, too!

The Fresh Start Town Hall Meeting was an excellent way for YAB members to learn more about the SPF and utilize its steps to effectively plan a program. To wrap up the SPF process, YAB members collected evaluations and analyzed results. They also met to discuss the event and have already started to plan for next year!

A Look Back at GUIDE’s 2013

GUIDE, Inc. 2013 Summary (3)

This past year was busy, challenging and incredibly rewarding for the GUIDE Staff as we took on new projects, moved forward with strategic planning and expanded our reach throughout the state. Our staff continued to be recognized for their professionalism and talents, which explains why we’re often in high demand. Every one of our initiatives made a difference in some way, and we are pleased to share our 2013 accomplishments with you.


Through our Alcohol Prevention Project (APP) funded by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, we continued to work through the Strategic Prevention Framework on our goal to reduce access to alcohol and binge drinking by 9 to 20 year-olds. Our work included the development of a Capacity Building Plan addressing community readiness and sustainability, a Strategic Plan identifying evidence-based strategies and activities to address local issues and an Implementation plan that outlines action steps and timelines. We ended the year with attention focused on the Evaluation Plan that addresses both process and outcomes.

GUIDE’s strategies in Gwinnett included reducing commercial access to alcohol through compliance checks, warning messages and increased penalties and reducing social access by raising awareness about consequences for providing alcohol to minors and improving social host liability laws or ordinances. A compliance check crackdown in the City of Lilburn at the end of the year resulted in several package stores and a restaurant receiving severe sanctions for selling to minors and garnered quite a bit of press attention.

Our public awareness campaigns continued throughout 2013. The biggest one, our Save Brains campaign, expanded to include new print materials, recurring Public Service Announcements on the Gwinnett County cable channel and at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Lawrenceville and utilization of social media platforms to spread the messages. The campaign’s display also made several stops around the state, including at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center and the Georgia School of Addiction Studies. Overall, our Save Brains messages reached over 1 million people in Gwinnett and beyond in 2013!

Additionally, we continued to collaborate with the local Drug Free Communities (DFC) coalition, the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services, by writing grants, providing training and taking the lead on several prevention strategies. In 2013, the Coalition was awarded the DFC grant for five more years. The focus is on underage drinking, marijuana and prescription drugs. GUIDE has been involved in these strategies through, among other things, our APP work, the Youth Advisory Board’s creation of two PSAs being shown in several venues and the promotion of the Prescription Drug Take Back program. As a part of our DFC work, GUIDE also publishes Inspired to Make Healthy Choices, a monthly newsletter about various health and wellness issues that is viewed by more than 100,000 individuals and 30,000 households every month.

Youth Leadership and Engagement

GUIDE’s work with youth leaders in Gwinnett and across the state continues to be some of the most successful and rewarding work that we are able to do. In 2013, our biggest and longest running program celebrated a huge anniversary and meeting a huge fundraising goal. Since 1989, Georgia Teen Institute has reached thousands of youth and adults from around the state. The summer of 2013 marked our 25th Anniversary of this popular program and to honor those years, our Youth and Young Adult Staff set a fundraising goal of $25,000. Though it seemed intimidating at first, we were able to, along with our 45 volunteer staff members, raise more than $28,000 by the end of the year, making this our largest fundraising campaign to date! The funds raised supported the 350 youth and adults who attended one of the two sessions of GTI 2013. These members of 43 youth action teams from across Georgia planned and implemented 85 prevention projects and 25 community service projects that involved over 50,000 youth and reached audiences of over 245,000 around Georgia and across the United States.

One of those Youth Action Teams is GUIDE’s very own Youth Advisory Board (YAB), who had a busy and successful 2013. In addition to the PSAs on underage drinking and marijuana that they created, our YAB members’ opinions and ideas were sought by  HLN’s Raising America, CNN and GenRx. The GenRx initiative used the YAB as a focus group about prescription drug use and several YAB members are featured on their website. For Red Ribbon Week, the YAB members conducted various campaigns at their own schools and participated in GUIDE’s “Be Red” campaign, reaching more than 7,500 students with messages regarding the effects of underage drinking. One of our YAB members, Josselyn Garcia, was selected as one of nine youth for MADD’s National Teen Influencer Group.

Training and Capacity Building

GUIDE has long been the recognized leader in professional development and youth leadership training in Georgia, and 2013 was no exception.

We started 2013 with the largest adult-focused event GUIDE has ever conducted, the Georgia Afterschool and Youth Development Conference. This event, funded by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Department of Human Services, took place in Athens and reached over 700 afterschool and youth development professionals in attendance for the three day event.

Throughout the remainder of the year, we were awarded contracts for training workshops from the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, the Georgia Department of Human Services and several other small non-profits, prevention agencies and others interested in our youth development and prevention work. With these partnerships, we were able to offer 52 professional development training events that reached over 1825 adults. Twenty of our 2013 events were prevention focused and, as the only provider to conduct the Core Courses required to apply for prevention credentials in Georgia, GUIDE played a big role in preparing the 25+ prevention professionals who recently received their credentials. Our twelve youth leadership training events included a leadership series with the Lilburn Middle School Peer Leaders and, in total, reached approximately 250 youth.

In the last quarter of 2013, GUIDE received contracts to plan the 2nd Annual Afterschool and Youth Development Conference scheduled for October 2014 and to plan the first Teens R 4 Me Conference for Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services workers, volunteers and teens in foster care scheduled for March 2014.

These highlights of our work in 2013 are merely the tip of the iceberg of projects, campaigns and events that GUIDE staff implemented and maintained this year. We couldn’t have celebrated the amazing success of 2013 without our dedicated board members, volunteers, supporters and friends and look forward to what 2014 holds!