Shelbi Taylor, left, and Arleen Weatherby talk Thursday at Leadership Plaza in Columbus. Taylor was addicted to methamphetamines and in the Lowndes County Juvenile Detention Center when Weatherby visited to teach the kids the effects of substance abuse in the Community Counseling Prevention Services-sponsored program Too Good for Drugs. Taylor is two months sober and out of detention after completing the program. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
Makayla Jones, 16, looks through a scrapbook of photos taken during her time in Too Good For Drugs, a substance abuse prevention program which Community Counseling Prevention Services is sponsoring in the Golden Triangle. Jones sat through the program as a sophomore at Columbus High School and last summer volunteered to teach the program to middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club in Starkville.
Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
August 29, 2017 10:20:42 AM
The day after 15-year-old Shelbi Taylor was released from the Lowndes County Juvenile Detention Center, she texted drug prevention specialist Arleen Weatherby.
"I just wanna say thank you so much for your help and your classes," the text read. "It's made me realize what life is without drugs. I don't need them and I don't want them."
Weatherby, who works with Community Counseling Prevention Services, had visited Taylor in the detention center to teach her 10-week prevention program Too Good For Drugs.
Taylor said it was Weatherby and the lessons she taught that made her want to change.
"I just realized I was killing myself slowly," she said.
Taylor was 11 when a friend's parent offered her marijuana. Taylor hesitantly accepted -- she was just trying to be cool. But within a few years, not only was she smoking on a regular basis, she also was hooked on methamphetamines. The one time A and B student had lost interest in grades and was fighting constantly with her mother and little brother. She would go weeks without eating. About a year ago, she was arrested for fighting at school.
"I was depressed," she said. "I just felt like no one loved me."
Weatherby visited Taylor's school to present the Too Good For Drugs program, but Shelbi didn't listen at the time.
"I liked the drugs," she said. "I loved them actually. I just thought she was wasting her time talking to me and I was wasting my time listening."
Then came the day her brother caught her smoking meth in the bathroom.
"He was like, 'You stupid methhead!'" Taylor remembered. "... And I just broke down."
Not long after, Taylor confessed her addiction to her mother, Brandi Taylor. Brandi contacted the detention center, and Shelbi found herself behind bars again on June 13.
That was about the time Weatherby brought Too Good For Drugs to the detention center where she had a literally captive audience.
"Whether it's because (Shelbi) was sitting in juvenile and couldn't do anything but listen, or whether she wanted to change, I don't know," Brandi said. "But whatever it was, it worked."
On July 26, Shelbi was out of detention for good behavior. She's now two months sober.
"I feel happy," she said.
Shelbi is one of between 500 and 600 students, mostly teenagers, who Weatherby estimates have completed the program since she began taking it to schools and community organizations in the Golden Triangle and Winston County in March 2016. The program is part of the state Department of Mental Health's anti-drug campaign, the Mississippi Prevention Alliance for Communities and Colleges.
Too Good for Drugs has been around much longer than that, Weatherby said. It was developed by the Mendez Foundation, a company that has created interactive lessons for kids on subjects like drugs and violence for more than 25 years. Weatherby chose the program because it's interactive -- rather than lecturing them on the dangers of substance abuse, Weatherby leads the students in games, skits and discussions aimed at setting goals and forming healthier relationships so they're less likely to turn to drugs.
"It allowed them just to be kids," Weatherby said.
The first five lessons don't touch on drugs. Instead, they focus on what Weatherby calls "life skills" -- goal-setting, decision-making, managing emotions, communication and relationships.
"Once they understand these five concepts, that's how we introduce drugs and alcohol," Weatherby said.
The idea behind organizing the program this way is to demonstrate to kids how substance abuse affects things like goals and relationships.
For many kids, the first five lessons are as memorable as the lessons on drugs, Weatherby said. Most students she meets have never tried drugs or alcohol. But many of them also haven't had adults that sat down with them and talked about setting goals or how to create healthy relationships.
"I've had kids tell me, 'I just want somebody to sit down and talk to me,'" Weatherby said.
Columbus High School junior Makayla Jones had never done and drugs and had no interest in them when she sat through Weatherby's program as a sophomore at McKellar Technology Center. But by the end of that lesson, Jones set short-term and "medium-term" academic goals like making all As and getting into certain classes.
"My long-term goal (is) to become a doctor," she said.
By the end of the whole program, Jones was ready to pass on the lessons she'd learned to other kids. Over the summer, she went with Weatherby to the Boys and Girls Club in Starkville to help teach the program to a group of around 30 middle school-aged students.
"I just wanted to help her out and show other kids ... that you can go through this course," she said.
She also had advice for kids who are already addicted to drugs: Stop.
"What you're doing right now is killing you," she said. "And it is possible to stop."
"Go get help," she said. "As soon as you can."
But that's easier said than done. Weatherby isn't trained to treat kids who are already addicted, so when a child asks for help getting clean, she has to go through therapists at Community Counseling Services. Those therapists can work with parents to get the child the treatment they need. If that's long-term care, it may involve going outside the Golden Triangle, which doesn't have a long-term treatment center specifically for youth.
It worries Brandi, who knows plenty of Shelbi's friends who are still addicted to methamphetamines and whose parents either don't know or don't care.
"In Columbus, Mississippi, who can they go to?" she said. "Who can they go to when their parents don't listen?
"There just needs to be some kind of a safe haven for them because there's been plenty of kids who've come to me ... and said, 'I can't stand this no more,'" she added.
But Brandi is extremely proud of her daughter. Shelbi just started high school at an alternative school in Purvis and has a job application to Wendy's already filled out and ready to go the day she turns 16. She's also eating more and is better able to express her emotions to her mother and school counselors. She's even getting along with her little brother.
"My baby's finding herself," she said. "She's feeling what a teenager should feel."
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