February 20, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
CHILL and HEY! are celebrating 10 years of empowering youth and families to make healthy life choices.
CHILL stands for Communities Helping Improve Local Lives. CHILL members represent all four of the public and private high schools in the area: Bassett, Carlisle, Magna Vista and Martinsville, according to information provided by Katie Connelly, community organizer for Piedmont Community Services and coordinator of the CHILL Youth Task Force.
More than 1,000 youths have been (or currently are) CHILL members during the last 10 years, Connelly said.
Brooke Mason, a sophomore at Martinsville High School, is in her first year as a CHILL member.
She decided to get involved because she wanted to teach the community about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and “that they can change,” she said.
Mason’s role as a CHILL member is to show others that they do not have to do what everyone else is doing, which could help “younger kids stay out of trouble,” she said.
Mason’s favorite things about CHILL are participating in community service events, speaking at conventions and attending meetings about topics such as alcohol awareness, she said.
Last summer, she took part in a youth summit at Patrick Henry Community College. For two days, area CHILL members learned to work together and came up with ideas to positively influence others, Mason said.
CHILL is the youth component of HEY!, Helping Engage Youth Community Task Force, which is a group of adults who represent all areas of the community: parents, educators, medical, faith and law enforcement.
Each high school has a CHILL club. Members meet regularly to plan and implement events and activities for their schools and for the whole CHILL group. CHILL coordinators at each school help guide the members, keep track of upcoming events and log community service hours the members receive through CHILL.
CHILL includes 135 youths who have demonstrated leadership and have been trained through Piedmont Community Services’ Prevention Unit. For the past 10 years, the group has worked on science-based prevention strategies to affect change concerning alcohol, tobacco and other drug use in Martinsville and Henry County through funding from local, state and federal grants.
In 2001, two science-based programs were selected for the Martinsville-Henry County area to target underage drinking and smoking: Communities Mobilizing on a Change on Alcohol (CMCA) and Life Skills. An adult task force and a youth task force were formed under the CMCA program to help mobilize the community on those issues and others.
Also in 2001, the Youth Interagency Network (YIN), a coalition of representatives from youth-serving organizations from Martinsville and Henry County, adopted the Right Choices for Youth Initiative (RCFY). Through the initiative, YIN gave CHILL the seed money to start its substance abuse activities.
CHILL was formed in the spring of 2002. Four training sessions, each of which lasted three days, were held at Patrick Henry Community College in the summer of 2002 for 47 area youths. The sessions included such topics as trust and team building, decision making, media influence and the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
CHILL members have worked to lower accessibility to alcohol by participating in Project Sticker Shock each year, coordinating with the Virginia Department of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). As part of the project, CHILL members place stickers on cases of beer warning people not to buy beer for underage youth.
Law enforcement officials collaborate with CHILL and HEY!. Officers regularly attend meetings, and CHILL representatives inform law enforcement about the latest drug trends, Connelly said.
“It’s hard for me to imagine any organization that does more to encourage young people to make the right choices in their lives,” said Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers.
Officers assist in programs and events, which allows young people to see law enforcement officials in a different light to show that “we care about their futures,” Rogers said.
Rogers’ daughter, Christy, was a member of CHILL when she was in high school, and he thinks CHILL gave her the “means to have good peers to associate with,” he said.
“Life is all about the choices you make,” and CHILL provides support and encouragement for young people to “stand up for what they believe is right,” Rogers said.
Another mission of CHILL is to educate young children. As part of “Red Ribbon Week,” CHILL members perform skits and activities for several local elementary school students and after-school programs. In addition, nationally known motivational speakers are brought into area schools.
To get the word out, CHILL members distribute parenting and substance abuse prevention information at various events, such as Fast Track Business Fair and Oktoberfest.
CHILL also connects with legislators about youth issues. Two recent changes are new tobacco legislation and smoke-free restaurants, as well as cough medicine and other over-the-counter drug protection. CHILL continues to work against parents providing alcohol to teens and to promote proper prescription drug disposal through the biannual Drug Take Back events.
CHILL co-sponsors free communitywide events as well.
For eight years, CHILL has sponsored a community youth rally with a life-size maze at Patrick Henry Community College. In 2011, more than 500 young people went through the life maze, and more than 200 volunteers helped plan the event.
CHILL also works to give back to the community by raising money for area organizations and helping Citizens Against Family Violence (CAFV) and Clothe-a-Child, an annual event that provides school supplies and clothing for children in pre-kindergarten through high school.
In 2005, more than $1,800 was raised for Fieldale Community Center and $1,500 for local charities.
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