On Friday, Santa Barbara County teenagers will be declaring themselves Free 4 the Weekend, the culmination of a week-long program designed “to educate, motivate and empower teens to live a drug-free lifestyle.”
An initiative of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse’s Youth Service System, the annual event is one of the organization’s most high-profile undertakings in the ongoing battle to keep kids away from the temptations that can lead to lifelong addictions.
Among the week’s activities is a kick-off teen town hall meeting from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo St. in Santa Barbara. Entertainment includes a performance by the Drama Kings from Los Prietos Boys Camp.
The weekend will be filled with free activities and freebies, including a free teen cooking class at Whole Foods Market, 3761 State St.; a free yoga class at Yoga Soup, 28 Parker Way; free week-long memberships to Paragon Jiu-Jitsu & Kickboxing, 617 N. Salsipuedes St.; free year-long memberships to the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara, 632 E. Canon Perdido; free entry to the Ty Warner Sea Center on Stearns Wharf; and a free dance party at Studio B, 4191 Carpinteria Ave. in Carpinteria.
Helping to direct the effort is Selena Rockwell, whose interest in helping teens avoid drug and alcohol use is deep-rooted. She has been involved with the Youth Service System, or YSS, for eight years, first as a youth service specialist at Santa Barbara High School and as a program coordinator for the last six years. She and fellow YSS staff work with junior high and high school students to provide drug and alcohol prevention and intervention services.
“I have always been interested in people and have had a keen interest in psychology, motivation and learning,” she told Noozhawk.
With a history of drug abuse among those close to her, Rockwell recalls the struggles she and her siblings faced as teenagers and says she feels “a strong connection to working with teens in overcoming their obstacles.”
Within her work, she helps with program oversight, community coordination, ongoing support and training for YSS staff.
YSS was launched 20 years ago as a CADA Fighting Back initiative to reduce substance abuse by getting youth-friendly adults to work in the schools to provide safe, nonjudgmental places for teens to go for support, information and resources, Rockwell said. Over the years, the program has successfully provided support to teenagers undergoing drug- and alcohol-related problems.
Through partnerships with local school districts, YSS helps address and adapt to the needs and challenges within schools and keep up with current research to create programs and services that will be most effective for students, she said.
Rockwell is involved in a number of programs that help promote the goals of YSS, such as Free 4 the Weekend, which is scheduled Friday through Sunday.
Free 4 the Weekend encourages teenagers to be drug-free through local community support. This week, YSS staff and students will be making presentations, holding activities and posting bulletins in schools “to educate, motivate and empower teens to live a drug-free lifestyle.”
Students are given the opportunity to pledge during Free 4 the Weekend to stay drug-free and they’re given a wristband and a foldout brochure with a list of businesses that support and reward their decision.
The students involved in Free 4 the Weekend and other YSS events come to YSS in need of support or due to opportunities through junior high and high school leadership clubs. Such opportunities exist through Club Live, for junior high, and Friday Night Live, for high school students. Students involved in these programs are trained on leadership, public speaking and community advocacy and they work to develop programs that will be effective and engaging for other students at risk.
Through events like these, Rockwell and YSS hope to spread encouragement to students to be drug- and alcohol-free and to be resources for other students to go to for support.
Rockwell studied psychology at UCSB and, after graduation, began substitute teaching for a number of different subjects and grades.
“I enjoyed connecting with students and empowering them to learn and break through challenged they faced,” she said.
In addition to Free 4 the Weekend, Rockwell is involved in a number of other projects, including teen service programs, mental health agencies and education programs within the community.
Through each program, Rockwell works to connect available resources “so that we can all work more effectively together and help more teens and families in our community.”
“I believe the more we work together and share resources, the greater effect of change we can have in our community,” she said.