Pubdate: Sat, 22 Jan 2005
Source: Daily Herald (IL)
Copyright: 2005 The Daily Herald Company
Author: Tara Malone, Daily Herald Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Youth)


Natalie Toomey's heard it all before.

Don't drink. Don't smoke. Steer clear of trouble. And just say

Yet when confronted Friday with former gang members, the realities of
teen pregnancy and pitfalls of drug use, such cliched cautions gained
new meaning.

"It kind of gives you a reality check," the 17-year-old Elgin High
School junior said. "When you're reminded of the effects and you see
what's happening to people your age, you see things in a whole
different light."

And that, organizers said, was the whole point.

Called Making Smart Choices, the daylong seminar attended by some 150
Elgin High students covered everything from club drugs to dating
violence, from gangs to sexually transmitted diseases.

The warnings may not be new, but organizers said they hope teens
walked away thinking about how they may skirt such pitfalls and
encourage others to do the same.

"It's a prevention conference," said Fernando Villeda, who directs
Elgin High's Head Start program and partnered with the Renz Counseling
Center of Elgin to orchestrate the seminar. "It's the problems we have
in the community that we want to prevent. ... They are wonderful kids,
but they are exposed to so many things."

Toomey and her friend, 16-year-old Kelly Schneider, sit on the
school's student council.

Janet Santos and Elizabeth Rojas, both 17-year-old juniors, belong to
the Hispanic Club.

Others came as class representatives, members of Students Against
Violence Everywhere and other such clubs.

"We are targeting leaders," Villeda said, "so they will send a message
back to their peers."

It's a task Rojas takes seriously.

A soft-spoken girl, Rojas attended workshops on teen pregnancy, club
drugs and a lecture from Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Mark

"I will tell my parents what I learned and I will tell my younger
sister," the Elgin teen said. "It's good to know what to say, what
excuses to say when they ask if you want drugs."

Suburban outposts - be they Elgin, Huntley or Schaumburg - are not
exempt from the scourge of drugs, Warpness said.

"It is a suburban issue. It's a huge's a mistake to think
they are not here," Warpness said. "What we're trying to do is educate
them to the reality. There is no such thing as experimental or
recreational drug use."
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