Laurel Lovitt practices a dance move with fellow members of America's Pride at Christ Presbyterian Church near Westfield Franklin Park Mall in Toledo. The Toledo chapter's weekly meetings regularly draw 30 to 40 people ages 13 to young adulthood.
The Toledo chapter of America's Pride is gearing up to play host for the group's 2012 World Drug Prevention Conference, to be held in downtown Toledo this spring.
Bill Geha, a co-founder of the local drug prevention program in 1987, said he expects 1,200 youths from across the United States to attend the gathering April 4 to 6 at the SeaGate Convention Centre.
He also said he expects a contingent from overseas, although he didn't know how big it would be. The conference is to include presentations by speakers.
"We're helping organize things," said Mr. Geha, who is intervention and prevention services coordinator for the Sylvania schools.
He founded the local chapter with Ken Newbury, retired principal of Dorr Elementary School, in the Springfield school district.
This will be the second consecutive year that the conference is held in Toledo.
Mr. Geha and the chapter meet every Tuesday a 6 p.m. in the gym of Christ Presbyterian Church, 4225 W. Sylvania Ave., near Westfield Franklin Park. Thirty to 40 young people, aged 13 to adulthood, regularly show up for the two-hour sessions, which feature skits, dances, and music intended to send a message that staying free of drugs and alcohol is the best path to follow.
A skit called 'Turnaround' has masked players in shirts labeled with drug names such as pot. A girl acts out drinking herself into insensibility and then rushing into the embrace of the 'drugs.'
For instance, one of the skits, called "Turnaround," has the performers wearing T-shirts with the names of drugs -- "heroin," "pot," etc. -- and masks. A girl then acts out the part of someone drinking herself into insensibility who rushes into the embrace of the "drugs."
The attendees, most of whom are teenagers, come mostly from the Sylvania, Toledo, Washington Local, Springfield, and Catholic schools.
Jenny Bell, 20, is a graduate of Sylvania Northview High School and joined Toledo Pride in 2004.
"It's a really positive atmosphere," she said. "The kids are so friendly and it's such a good message. I'll stay with it as long as I can."
For Rowan Kobylansky, 17, a senior at Springfield High School, the anti-drug message is the draw. She joined the group in 2007.
"This is a good way to inspire kids to be healthy," she explained. Rowan said she'll attend Bowling Green State University in the fall and plans to stay with the group. "It's something I believe in: not doing drugs and alcohol."
Jenny Lafferty, 13, an eighth grader at Sylvania's Arbor Hills Junior High, has been coming to the sessions only for a month, but said she feels right at home.
"People don't judge me here. I've had friends who have had bad experiences with drugs, and I know that's not the way to go," she said.