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Mt. Pleasant child ID program brings awareness, educates

| Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

Since 1988, the Mt. Pleasant Drug and Alcohol Awareness Association has been working to keep a proactive approach toward substance abuse in the Mt. Pleasant community.

Working both in the schools and in the community, the group has strived to bring education and awareness to parents and children alike.

"Our mission is to bring awareness to current issues in our community," group founder and District Judge Roger Eckels said, adding that society and our local communities face an ever-changing threat with new issues that are created with substance abuse issues. "These changes need to be made public and need to be addressed."

After bringing attention to abuse situations for several years, Eckels and now Mt. Pleasant police Chief Steve Ober began to offer child identification programs. They would take their portable fingerprinting and photo equipment to area schools, groups and public functions. The team would then photograph and fingerprint children, giving all the information back to the parents.

"We never keep any of the information for ourselves," Ober said. "The information is to be used in the case of possible abduction."

Since its beginning in 2000, the identification program has processed thousands of children in the Westmoreland County area.

"We've processed over 33,000 kids for the children's identification awareness process," Mt. Pleasant Drug and Alcohol Awareness Association President John Hostoffer said. "We've worked hard to bring awareness to the area."

The group also has a coloring book and poster contest every spring, giving Mt. Pleasant Area students the opportunity to participate. All entries are based on drug, alcohol and substance abuse awareness.

"We have high school students create designs for the coloring books, and then we judge them and choose," Eckels said.

The coloring pages are then given to younger elementary-aged children to color, while older children can then create original posters as part of the competition.

The group will be offering a $1,000 scholarship annually, made possible by its fundraising efforts.

Most recently, the group donated a check to the Mt. Pleasant K-9 Unit for $4,000 to help with costs.

"We're aware of the problems with drugs that we have in the community, and this canine unit is going to be a great asset to the department," Eckels said.

The group also donated two PBTs or pre-breathalyzer testing units to the department and plans to continue to stay at the forefront of changing times and situations to address problems before they happen.

"We are all about proactive approaches and awareness with all substance issues," Hostoffer said.

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