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Archive for January, 2014

Start Talking Initiative

Ohio Governor John Kasich and First Lady Karen W. Kasich have launched a program to help keep Ohio children safe from the tragedies that result from drugs. Start Talking is a part of a new drug abuse prevention initiative launched January 8 with a focus on ways we can all work to reduce the likelihood of youth drug use before it even starts.  Research shows that youth are up to 50% less likely to use drugs when parents and adults talk with them about substance use and abuse.

The Start Talking initiative hosted a kick off event at Wheelersburg High School in Wheelersburg, Ohio on January 30, 2013.  The Wheelersburg area has had it’s share of “pill mills”.  The larger issue in the area now is heroin addiction.  The goal of Start Talking is to educate and empower our children to talk to adults and to speak up about what they are seeing around them. The program is also designed provide tools to increase the communication between the parents and children. Wheelersburg Local Schools Superintendent Mark Knapp introduced the program and talked about how the school can be pivotal in educating our children on drug abuse and empowering the students to talk to the teachers and coaches if they are aware of a problem.

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Mark Knapp, Superintendent of Wheelersburg Local Schools

Wheelersburg Baseball Coach, Michael Estep, reinforced the need to open a dialogue with our children.  He says he uses his Saturday morning sessions before double headers to bring speakers in to talk with the baseball team about a variety of issues.  He feels coaches and teachers are in a good position to provide support and encourage kids to stay off drugs.  In a time when peer pressure is strong, sometimes, just knowing there is an adult, whether it is a teacher, coach, or parent the student can turn to makes all of the difference. 

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Coach Michael Estep presents at the Start Talking kick-off initiative.

Among the speakers today were parents who had lost children to drugs.  It is important to realize the majority of drugs are obtained through family and friends.  Think about what you have laying around the house.  When was your last surgery?  Do you still have those pain pills laying around?  Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles, and other parents could unknowingly contributing to drug abuse to our children.  Take the time to go through your medicine cabinet and clean out medications that could lead to addiction.  

The first speaker, Danielle Smoot, gave an emotional testimonial about how her son died after his first exposure to drugs.  He was seen in the hospital and then when he came home, they put him to bed.  When she went in to check on him he had died in his sleep.  She emphasized that any child could be exposed to drugs at any time.  

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Danielle Smoot emphasizes that “one time” can lead to a tragic end.

The next speaker was JoAnna Krohn.  Her son had a troubled time with drug addiction.  One night he was having a party and obtained a loaded gun and accidentally shot himself in the head.  After the death of her son, Ms. Krohn founded SOLACE (Surviving Our Loss and Continuing Everyday), an organization to provide to evidence based support and education to children and adolescents on substance and alcohol abuse. SOLACE also organizes support groups to help individuals who have lost a family member to drug abuse or individuals who have someone in their family suffering from drug abuse and addiction.

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Jo Anna Krohn speaks about the tragic loss of her son, Wesley, while he was under the influence of alcohol and opiates.

Mr. Paul Schoonover gave testimony about his son’s history with drug abuse. His son came to him and told him he had a problem and wanted help.  Mr. Schoonover said that his son completed a drug rehabilitation program and they mistakenly believed he was “cured”.  His son died of a heroin overdose the day after he had completed a drug rehabilitation program.   

 

 

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Mr. Schoonover talks about the loss of his son from a heroin overdose.

Representative Terry Johnson who has served the region as the county coroner and as a physician talked about the “heritage” of drug addiction.  Many of the children who fall into the cycle of drug addiction are from families who have had long standing histories of drug abuse…parents, grandparents and so on.  It is a difficult task to break that cycle; they live how they are taught. He said as the coroner he has seen things we would not believe.  Conditions children are raised in down to elder abuse and neglect. Rep. Johnson credits closing the “pill mills” as a first big step to eliminating the availability of drugs.

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Rep. Terry Johnson shares his experiences as county coroner and seeing first hand the effects of drug abuse in our region.

Portsmouth, Ohio Police Chief, Robert Ware talked about the efforts law enforcement is taking in providing support and education to the schools and to the community.  He also talked about the efforts law enforcement has taken in making arrests and stopping the trafficking coming into the area. Chief Ware, concluded the program with this final quote: “How would you feel if you didn’t take 5 minutes to talk to your kids?” 

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Portsmouth, Ohio, Police Chief Robert Ware discusses what the police department has been doing to fight the fight against drugs.

Drug usage in this region has been prevalent since I was in school.  You knew who used and who didn’t.  When I first realized there was a problem was when I was walking home from school one afternoon (remember this is the late 1970’s) and I saw a car pull over and one of the students who was a year ahead of me ran over to the car and she was handed a bag of different colored “objects”.  I was so ignorant about drugs at the time that what I saw did not register with me. It wasn’t until later on did I realized I had witnessed a “drug deal”. 

Just because we live in a small town does not mean we are immune to the problems of drug abuse and addiction.  It is very important to talk to our children early on and frequently. I started talking to my daughter about drugs when she was in first grade and I haven’t stopped. I always emphasize to her that just because her friends say something is “ok” does not mean it is.  I’ve always told her no matter what do not get into a car if someone is under the influence of anything or for her to drive herself if she is.  It is always ok to call me for a ride home. Never put yourself or others at risk.  I will not get mad; I will not ask questions.  What she has heard me say over and over is “Never, ever, drink anything, someone else has made, or drink out of a container you did not open yourself, or drink anything you didn’t make yourself.”  

Like Police Chief Ware said, “How would you feel if you didn’t spend 5 minutes talking to your children?”

For more information on the Start Talking Initiative click on:  http://www.starttalking.ohio.gov/About.aspx

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Junior Theatre Festival 2014 Sets a Positive Example

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Pam DeCamp Photography

Unless you are involved in community theatre or work with children’s theatre programs (or theatre period) you’ve probably never heard of Music Theatre International (MTI) or the Junior Theatre Festival.  MTI was founded in 1952 by composer Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls) and orchestrator Don Walker (Carousel, Fiddler on the Roof) and is the industry leader in theatrical licensing. In other words, this is who you contact if you want to do a musical that is in their library.  You pay a licensing fee to put on the performance.

The Junior Theatre Festival (JTF) started in 2003 and was created by Nick Manos, who dedicates his time to the planning and expansion of the annual festival, and Timothy Allen McDonald, CEO and founder of iTheatrics. Mr. Manos and Mr. McDonald were inspired by the enthusiasm and excitement of the kids who participate in musical theatre and felt there should be…

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Junior Theatre Festival 2014 Sets a Positive Example

Unless you are involved in community theatre or work with children’s theatre programs (or theatre period) you’ve probably never heard of Music Theatre International (MTI) or the Junior Theatre Festival.  MTI was founded in 1952 by composer Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls) and orchestrator Don Walker (Carousel, Fiddler on the Roof) and is the industry leader in theatrical licensing. In other words, this is who you contact if you want to do a musical that is in their library.  You pay a licensing fee to put on the performance.

The Junior Theatre Festival (JTF) started in 2003 and was created by Nick Manos, who dedicates his time to the planning and expansion of the annual festival, and Timothy Allen McDonald, CEO and founder of iTheatrics. Mr. Manos and Mr. McDonald were inspired by the enthusiasm and excitement of the kids who participate in musical theatre and felt there should be an arena where the kids could showcase their talents and learn from each other.

The Junior Theatre Festival in 2003 was attended by approximately 650 kids.  In 2014 the participation at this event was over 4,000!  For the statisticians in the group, that is a 515% increase in an 11 year period!  As it is stated in Mr. Manos bio, “the excitement of those kids was palpable and infectious” at this event!

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This was the first time I had the pleasure of attending the JTF.  I attended as a photographer for one of our local writers, Joseph Pratt, who wanted to cover the event. One of the adjudicators asked me what I thought of it.  I replied, “In one word, energy!”  There was so much energy the entire weekend.  Not just with the kids, but the workers as well.  All involved with the JTF deserve a big round of applause for all they do.  I felt welcome by all and it was truly a “family” feel.

The CEO of MTI, Freddie Gershon and his wife Myrna were in attendance at all of the events.  They, too, were very cordial and welcomed all of the guests as if they were welcoming them into their own home.  The weekend is non-stop from performances by each of the groups participating in the festival to the finale of Broadway stars performing on stage.

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The entire weekend is a very positive and uplifting experience.  Every review the adjudicators gave came across positive and encouraging.  Author, Tim Federle (Five, Six, Seven, Nate!), was one of the adjudicators.  He would go through a routine with the performers and show them how to make it better.  I do not believe I heard any negative comments from the adjudicators.  They were there to educate and show the kids how to improve.  It was very inspiring to see and hear the encouragement the kids received.

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During the adjudication process, kids were selected to receive a “golden ticket” which granted them the privilege to audition for the JTF video.  This is a BIG DEAL for the kids.  Out of the 4,000 who attended only 300 received the precious “golden ticket”.  I had the privilege to sit in and photograph the “closed” audition.  It was an awesome experience to see and hear 300 talented kids from 26 states sing in harmony and dance to an impromptu choreographed piece to put their skills to the test.

The group gathered into a room where they were each given a number; then they were split up.  Half went with the choreographers, Steven G. Kennedy, Kelby McIntyre-Martinez, and previous video participant Ben Sears (there was no one in the group who did not know who he was!) and the other half stayed and learned the musical number, “Good Morning” from “Singin’ in the Rain”.

Kennedy kept emphasizing to the kids, “You need to stay focused.  On Broadway you are given 15 mins to learn a routine. The key is focus.”

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The poise and professionalism that each of the staff members showed was phenomenal. I cannot recall the last time I was at a conference or convention where the energy and excitement carried through the entire event and even during the “social” time.  The lounge area was buzzing with energy during the after hours time.  The staff and adjudicators were approachable and took the time to engage in conversation and answer questions. Often times they would address me by name (I did not have on a name tag), which is impressive considering the number of people they encountered during the weekend.

The New Works Showcase is an opportunity for theatrical groups to put on a live performance of one of the Junior Theatre shows.  This year’s showcase was presented by Disney Musicals.  To demonstrate the diversity of these groups, you had elementary, middle schools, and community theatre groups showcasing hits like, Legally Blonde, The Musical, Jr., Shrek, The Musical, Jr., Magic Tree House Collection: The Knight at Dawn Kids, 101 Dalmatians Kids, and Mary Poppins.  Each of these groups did an outstanding job!

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The weekend finale was Disney Theatrical Productions, Broadway and Beyond: An Evening With the Stars of Broadway. The show included hit songs from the Disney musicals, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, AIDA, Tarzan, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid.  The performance also introduced the audience to other songs from the productions of NewsiesPeter and the StarcatcherKing David, and Aladdin (which opens on Broadway in March).  The stars of the show were Heidi Blickenstaff (Ursula, of The Little Mermaid); Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins); Merle Dandridge (Aida); Josh Strickland (Tarzan); and Alton Fitzgerald White (Mufasa of The Lion King). Again, the energy in their performances was strong.  They carried the emotion through each verse from humor to sadness.  The expressions in their faces and their body language enhanced performance of each song.

The highlight of the show was when Strickland came into the audience singing “She’s In Love” from The Little Mermaid.  You could hear a collective sigh from the audience and all of the kids came rushing to the front of the stage to get close to him.  He sang to one of the girls in our group from Portsmouth, Ohio. Ironically, it was the same song she sang in the performance the Portsmouth group did for the adjudication process.  How cool is that?

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All in all the weekend is a great learning experience for these young actors and actresses.  For me the take away was maintaining a positive attitude and encourage, not discourage these young performers.  The JTF is a positive way for kids to express themselves and to receive inspiration from the pros.  What a great opportunity this is!

Here are a couple more pictures from the Broadway and Beyond performances:

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Alton Fitzgerald White and Merle Dandridge

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Ashley Brown

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Heidi Blickenstaff