Sunday, February 18 , 2018, 4:51 pm | Fair 64º


Teen Artists Depict Lessons of Substance Abuse in ‘Portraits of Addiction and Hope’ Competition

SafeLaunch awards cash prizes for winning photographs and art created by local high school students inspired by recovering addicts

Gina is standing in front of the base of a tree with her arms wide open as her Native American regalia flutters in the wind. Her smile stretches across her face and her eyes are closed, as if she is giving someone a hug.

The sepia-tone photograph hangs inside Samy’s Camera in Santa Barbara, next to a blue ribbon. Santa Ynez Valley Union High School junior Alulkoy Cash took the photo that captured first place in the SafeLaunch “Portraits of Addiction and Hope” competition.

“I wanted to capture her spirituality,” Cash said. “She’s wearing her Native American regalia, so I was hoping people would see this photo and see that her spirit helped her get through it and guided her. She was one with God; peace is finally with her.”

The annual contest featured photographs and art created by local high school students who had met someone recovering from substance abuse. They were asked to depict the person through art. But Cash said her photo and her relationship with Gina struck a chord close to her heart.

“I want to cry,” she said. “It’s emotional for me because my mom is struggling with alcoholism and is in recovery. I want to show her this picture really bad, but she is sick in bed in L.A. She knows (I won). She is really happy.”

SafeLaunch co-founder Janet Rowse said the goal of the competition was to prevent the disease of addiction by forming relationships with people who are recovering. She said teens are six times more susceptible to addiction.

“To be able to meet the people in recovery, hear their stories and take that feeling they had from interacting with them and bring it to life, I think was meaningful,” Rowse said. “I know this is something they will always remember.”

Dos Pueblos High School junior Lincoln Liechti created a pen and ink drawing of a person — her subject, Heather — standing on top of a pillar that reads “Freedom” with her arms outstretched. At the base of the drawing, there are dozens of people with various expressions — euphoric, depressed, beat up, confused, etc. Some people are climbing up ladders to the peak as people give them a hand. The different levels or stages symbolize different parts of Heather’s life that helped her, including her family, job and school. Liechti won first place in the art category.

“At the base there’s a lot of drug addicts, and as you climbed up people are helping each other out via jobs, school, community or family,” Liechti said. “School was a big thing for (Heather), and she said that you shouldn’t be turned away from jobs just because of her history. She said she had an outlet with her job, her family was accepting and once you get to the top you have freedom, your life is back in your hands and you can do whatever you want.”

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School junior Alulkoy Cash earned first place in the SafeLaunch 'Portraits of Addiction and Hope' competition for her sepia-tone photograph.
Santa Ynez Valley Union High School junior Alulkoy Cash earned first place in the SafeLaunch “Portraits of Addiction and Hope” competition for her sepia-tone photograph. (Alex Kacik / Noozhawk photo)

SafeLaunch awarded $1,700 in prizes and $500 to the winners.

Santa Barbara Rescue Mission president Rolf Geyling said most of the recovering addicts with whom he has dealt started using when they were in their teens. He said the key is prevention, and that’s where SafeLaunch plays an important role.

“The images that you see, the people who sat for those portraits, pictures and paintings are all people making their way through our recovery program,” Geyling said. “I just wanted to thank you because what you are attempting is extremely heroic, and we wish you the best for your recovery, and it’s so neat that you told your story to a young person.”

Liechti said he learned a lot about what drugs and alcohol can do to someone at a young age.

“Seeing what she went through, it was pretty gnarly,” he said. “It was also cool to see people bounce back. It’s a tough recovery process, but it’s possible.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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