KAYSVILLE—It’s a little word, but it makes a big difference.
So Heather Anderson had the students at Snow Horse Elementary practice it again, and again. Louder each time.
The word was “no.”
And because she had said it each time she was invited to take drugs or alcohol – starting in second grade and continuing through high school, college and her career – it has made a big difference in her life.
But because her little brother, Brad, instead said “yes,” when first invited to take alcohol and later drugs, she said his life ended early from an overdose.
Anderson shared her dramatic stories at the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) graduation of sixth grade students at the Kaysville elementary.
She was joined by Jared Ward, a Kaysville resident who placed sixth in the marathon at the Rio Olympics, and Steve Hiatt, mayor of Kaysville, who also spoke with the kids about the importance of taking care of their bodies.
Anderson was Miss Utah 2007, and since then has visited more than 1,000 schools to talk about the importance of avoiding drugs and alcohol.
“He didn’t think it was a big deal,” she said of her brother’s first use of alcohol when he was underage. “He never got caught and he thought he was fine, but he took a very big step down a very long road.”
After alcohol there were prescription pills and then cocaine building his addiction and affecting his weight, his ability to sleep and more, she said.
“It changed everything about him,” said Anderson. Seeing him change, then get desperate enough to steal medications to sell, then have an accidental overdose “was the worst and scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “My parents did everything they could but none of it worked. And it was because he said ‘yes.’”
Hiatt also contrasted his own experience with that of a friend he recently met, who had been in prison and lost the trust of his family because of his addictions.
While there weren’t DARE programs when he was in school, Hiatt said he had parents who taught him the importance of saying “no.”
Even more, when he called them from a late-night party he felt he should leave, they didn’t ask questions or become critical, but just dropped everything to pick him up.
“Your parents are your best friends,” he said. “They will always, always, always come pick you up. Never hesitate to reach out.”
The mayor invited a student onstage and had her role-play a scenario where she was offered a pill to reduce her stress over homework.
Not only did the sixth grader answer “no” to his pretend request, when he asked her what she would do with the pills she said she would “throw them in the trash and burn them.”
Ward talked about his experience running in elementary school and how hard he worked to improve his race results.
“I realized I could do hard things,” he told the kids, encouraging them to say with him: “I can do hard things,” and then do them.
“It’s not just staying away from the things that are bad for you,” he said, “but reaching for the things that are good for you.”
Officer Justin Stanford teaches the DARE Program in each of Kaysville’s 10 elementary schools.
School leaders praised Stanford for the time he spent getting to know kids and supporting their activities as he took them through the curriculum – which includes not only anti-drug information, but training on how to cope with stress, peer pressure and other difficulties students may face.
Having a police officer teach the DARE program is a great way for the department to connect with the youth, said Kaysville Police Chief Sol Oberg, who also attended the graduation ceremony.
“This program helps personalize the police and give students a point of contact and a comfort level with them,” he said. “It helps show we’re about more than enforcement. It’s a perfect tool.”