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Belle Vernon students to get a dose of 'reality'

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At Belle Vernon Area High School once a month, students will get a first-hand look at the dangers and consequences of drug addiction through the Reality Tour.

Its powerful message for teens is being embraced not only by the school district, but the communities it serves.

In addition to the school district, the Belle Vernon Area Reality Tour is being sponsored by the Belle Vernon Rotary and other businesses.

The school board approved about half of the costs of the tour's first year. The Belle Vernon Rotary Club has pledged $1,500 to the program. Other community- and business-based sponsorships have guaranteed an at least two-year tour.

“I got involved because I'm worried where our future business owners are coming from,” said Gina C. Lynn, executive director of the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce, which is helping to promote the tour. “I wanted to make sure the chamber is involved. It became a community involvement thing.”

The chamber has an interest in the future community leaders and business leaders, Lynn said.

“We want to keep our business communities clean and safe and bring awareness,” Lynn said. “We can't be naïve that it does not exist in our communities.”

The first Belle Vernon Area Reality Tour will be presented 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 8 at the high school. Subsequent Belle Vernon Area Reality Tour dates are Oct. 13, Nov. 10, Dec. 8, Jan. 12, Feb. 9, March 9, and April 13.

The tour is recommended for children ages 10 and up when accompanied by a parent. Advance registration is necessary, as space is limited. Parental consent is also required.

“Reality Tour” is a consequence-driven program aimed at parents and children as young as 10. The roughly three-hour program follows the suspect through a lifetime of drug addiction, involving his arrest, a trip to a hospital emergency room and, ultimately his death.

At the end of the tour, children receive age-progression photographs of themselves depicting the way they would look after 20 years of drug abuse.

The Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program was created by Norma Norris of Butler in 2003 and is now promoted through the nonprofit CANDLE Inc.

The Belle Vernon Area Reality Tour has purchased the Reality Tour Program for use in Westmoreland County.

Participants will follow the fate of a fictitious teen addicted to drugs. The tour includes an Arrest and Prison Experience as well as dramatic Emergency Room Overdose Scene and Funeral Scene. A narrative by the “addict” precedes each scene and includes the constant reminder to the audience that, “I'm just like you.”

Dr. John Wilkinson, superintendent of the Belle Vernon Area School District, welcomes the business and community support.

“It says to me we're working as a community to support our people who may get involved in illegal substances so that they realize prevention is best,” Wilkinson said. “And we're working as a team for our kids.”

Pre-registration for the Belle Vernon Area Reality Tour program is required and registration forms are available at www.realitytour.org For more information, email bellevernonarearealitytour@gmail.com.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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