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Do Good: 'Above the Influence' campaign informs kids that it's hip to be square

Bonnie Sullivan and her daughter Brooke.

Sharra Poncil



Teens are under enormous pressure to fit in. What can parents and the community do to discourage drug and alcohol abuse? Old Navy and the Kent County Prevent Coalition have a fashionable idea.
Co-sponsored locally by Old Navy and the KCPC, the ‘Above the Influence’ (ATI) campaign strives to reduce the harmful effects of substances among youth. In February the retail store and nonprofit organization partnered to open a pop-up store inside the Old Navy store at Centerpointe Mall, 3665 28th St. SE in Grand Rapids. The 12-by-4 foot pop-up store sells a variety of teen clothing and gear with its ‘Above the Influence’ message – fun, colorful merchandise that retails for anywhere from $1 for embroidered hipster socks to $10 for a hooded, cotton sweatshirt.

Every teen’s life is filled with both good and bad stressors. Corporate marketing and media moguls glamorize the consumption of alcohol and drugs, and the message is inescapable. It’s on the big screen, television, web, and the printed page. Area retailers capitalize on key placement of alcohol in their stores. And our society sends the message that it’s socially acceptable for alcohol to be part of local events and most community celebrations. For a teen, these influences – combined with peer pressure – can result in underage drug and alcohol use.

Indeed, youth alcohol use continues to be a significant problem in Kent County, reflecting trends at the national level. According to the 2009-10 Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth (MiPHY), 12% of Kent County high school students have tried alcohol before age 13; and 44% of Kent County high school students report having tried at least one alcoholic drink. The earlier the onset of drug use, the higher the likelihood of addiction (Young, 2002) as well as community ramifications. Underage drug use is a contributing fact to academic failure, unwanted sexual contact, unplanned sexual encounters, the onset of mental illness, and criminal activity (Joseph A. Califano, Jr. 2001). Source.

ATI’s goal is to help teens stand up to negative pressures and influences. The more aware teens are of the influences around them, the better prepared they will be to stand up to them, including the pressure to use drugs and alcohol. Although it is impossible to shield teens completely from the negative influences that surround them, when protective factors in a teen’s life outweigh risk factors, a teen is less likely to use drugs. Source.

But it’s not about telling teens how to live their lives; ATI focuses on offering another perspective and the latest facts so youth can make intelligent decisions. The national campaign was created and implemented by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a program of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It informs and inspires teens to reject illicit drugs via TV, print, Internet, and local radio advertising – and, most importantly, in partnership with schools, community organizations, and faith communities. ATI promotes peer-to-peer learning and empowerment; positive lifestyle choices; creating healthy youth decision-making tools; and a youth-mobilized community.

ATI’s goal is in sync with KCPC’s mission. Whereas ATI strives to help teens stand up to negative pressures and influences and to live Above the Influence, KCPC endeavors to build a healthier community by preventing and reducing harmful substance use behaviors in Kent County, focusing on youth.

“As a destination for teen shoppers, Old Navy supports positive, uplifting efforts which better the community,” says Shawn Cash, manager of Centerpointe Mall Old Navy (store 3339). “We are thrilled to welcome KCPC and its fashion-forward merchandise to our total offerings. The Old Navy store partnership reflects the retailer’s interest in supporting a healthy community.”

KCPC’s coordinator Shannon Cohen says, “Our annual Youth Summit is proud to have a strong supporter like Old Navy. Their store provides the ideal forum for reaching out to youth.”

Proceeds from the pop-up store will support the KCPC, which initiates events like the 2014 Above the Influence Youth Summit, a free, all-day event for area teens scheduled for Friday, May 2 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the GVSU Allendale Campus.

The pop-up store will remain at Old Navy indefinitely.

Get involved:
- Check out the resources available to parents and youth on the KCPC website.
- Volunteer at KCPC.
- For more information and resources on preventing, intervening, getting treatment, and recovering from substance abuse, click here.

Photography by Adam Bird
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