ROCK SPRINGS — Community members have once again joined forces to encourage young teens to avoid behaviors that could adversely affect their lives now and in the future.
Students from Rock Springs, Green River, Wamsutter and Farson-Eden have been getting an up-close and personal look at consequences during Life RU Ready? from Monday through Wednesday at the Sweetwater Events Complex.
Individual volunteers as well as representatives from a multitude of agencies again contributed to the annual event, whether through donations or by confronting seventh- and ninth-graders with the harsh realities that can result from decisions made about drugs, alcohol, sex, violence and suicide.
Some of those helping have experienced the pain resulting from choices made.
Hayley Castillo is a featured Life RU Ready? speaker who shares her story in the hope of convincing others not to take risky chances.
“Drugs are not worth it,” she said in a video presentation. “This has ruined my life. … If you have a heart and a brain, like I know you do, stop and think twice.”
After taking pills at a party as a young teen in 2008, Castillo nearly died. Although she survived, she can no longer stand, speak or care for herself. She communicates with sign language and is cared for by her uncle with help from Able Hands.
The family of Larissa Rose Salazar has also responded to tragedy and loss by laboring to help others. They hosted a paint party in her memory in September to raise funds to promote suicide prevention and awareness. Noel Cooper of Injury Prevention Resources said when family members learned about Life RU Ready? efforts, they chose the event as the recipient of the more than $1,000 raised at the party.
When seventh-graders arrive at Life RU Ready?, they start by watching a “party scene” acted out by Rock Springs High School academy students. Then, they receive random colored cards directing them to a consequence tied to a choice that could have been made. Consequence cards are labeled legal, accident, medical or mortuary and students go to stations corresponding to scenarios such as overdosing, getting in a crash or being arrested. Just as in real life, consequences vary and two students rarely have the same experience at the event.
After consequence sessions, students graduate and attend a debrief session. All students also watch Castillo’s video and have the opportunity to ask her questions. This year’s event also featured a yoga session for all students led by exercise science students from Western Wyoming Community College.
In addition to increasing awareness of the serious ramifications of risky behavior and decreasing motivation to participate in such conduct, the Life RU Ready? project mission is to provide opportunities for communication between parents and teens.
Organizers hope to “spur conversations and open doors,” Cooper said.
In the past, seventh-graders took part in a party scene simulation. It felt and looked like an actual party with real police officers arriving to act out breaking it up and enforcing the law. It was modified to the current role-playing model after evaluations revealed problems. Some of the students were traumatized by the party scene and became very upset while others took it as a joke or said that it was fun.
Under the current model, high school students portray a variety of possible party circumstances, followed by discussion and information provided by a police officer.
Topics addressed Monday morning included peer pressure, vaping, sexting, overdosing, drinking and driving, and sexual assault.
Students who receive a mortuary card gather around an open casket and learn about situations that can result in death such as drinking and driving, suicidal thoughts or overdosing. Discussion centers around the effect on those left behind, life events that will be missed, and how things could have been done differently.
In the legal scenarios, participants might appear before an actual judge, go to a youth home, get probation or go to jail. An actual jail facility is constructed at the Sweetwater Events Complex. There, Deputy Dwaine Shafe of the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office explains what happens when a person gets arrested, sparing no details.
“Are you having fun yet? No?” he asked at one point Tuesday morning.
Other consequence contexts include a crash scene, emergency room visit, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
GRADUATION AND DEBRIEF
At graduation, students have a picture taken holding a sign detailing the consequence they faced. Booklets that each student receives prompt them to consider how choices can affect life after graduation, and how to find valid information that will support goals for graduation and afterward.
School counselors and Southwest Counseling Service staff provide the debriefing session. This year, students watched a video on the dangers of vaping and learned stress tolerance through Dialectical Behavioral Skills called TIPP, which stands for temperature regulation, intense exercise, paced breathing and paired muscle relaxation.
Life RU Ready? is possible only through widespread support in the community. It was founded in Sweetwater County in 2012 and was modeled after Life RU Ready? in Gillette.
Life RU Ready? in Sweetwater County is a partner of Injury Prevention Resources (Region No. 5 Safe Communities of Wyoming) under the directorship of Executive Director Noel Cooper and Vice Executive Director and Event Coordinator Jean Stachon. There are approximately 150 volunteers, according to the program’s website, including the planning committee and other community volunteers.
The planning committee includes Green River Municipal Court, Green River Police Department, Rock Springs Municipal Court, Rock Springs Police Department, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, Rock Springs High School Health Academy, Southwest Counseling Service, Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office, Sweetwater County Coroner’s Office, Sweetwater County Department of Family Services, Sweetwater County Juvenile Probation, Sweetwater County District Court, Sweetwater County Public Health Department, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Department Detention Center, Sweetwater County School Districts No. 1 and No. 2, Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming Highway Patrol, Western Wyoming Family Health, and the county’s faith-based community.
Other sponsors and key supporters include BOCES, the city of Rock Springs, Vase Funeral Home, Rock Springs Rotary Club, Tata Chemical and R & M Welding. Food was provided by McDonalds, Dominion Energy, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, Dominoes Pizza, Albertsons and the Rotary Club. Western Wyoming Beverages donated drinks.