Gus, wearing a leather Harley Davidson golf cap, mirrored shades and a black T-shirt with “Sturgis” printed across the front, plans to be a rock star. Last week, in order to help him reach his goal, he made a commitment to never drink alcohol. He’s 12 and bound for seventh grade.
Gus is one of 13 C.S. Porter students who enrolled and recently graduated from “All Stars,” a program run by the community-school partnership called Flagship. If kids are going to drink or experiment with drugs, says Rosie Buzzas, who launched Flagship, research shows that they’ll do so between 3 and 6 p.m. So, during those hours, Flagship keeps them busy. The free after-school program, modeled after a similar one in Indiana, came to Missoula in 1996. “We grew pretty quickly,” Buzzas says.
“All Stars” is one of the newest sets of activities, and it’s a “best practices” program, which means it has been nationally tested and proven to keep kids from drinking at a young age. It succeeds, in part, by asking kids to articulate their goals—i.e., becoming a rock star—and then list choices that contribute to success or failure.
Flagship is effective, says youth development coordinator Lisa Beczkiewicz, because it’s fun. Kids sign up for rock climbing, swimming and gardening. Then, says Beczkiewicz, “We sneak in this prevention program.”
Last Thursday, the day before “All Stars” graduation, when the alcohol-free pre-teens received a sterling silver ring to remind them of their commitments, they staffed a hot-dog stand in the parking lot of the Missoula Federal Credit Union on Reserve Street. That’s the community service portion of the curriculum, says Beczkiewicz. They raised $180 for the Big Sky water park.
Megan, 12, rolling a turquoise piece of chewing gum around in her mouth, wore sanitary gloves that seemed to float on her small hands. Her goals include achievement, education and fun. She won’t drink or get drunk until she’s 21. She has committed to “never sniff anything.” She answered questions while tending customers.
“All right, I’m going to have a hot dog, chips and a soda,” said a customer.
Megan and her coworker responded in tandem: “The meal deal!”
They snicker at the guy who comes back for seconds.
At this age, says Beczkiewicz, some kids have taken a nip or two at a wedding or holiday. They aren’t that taken with booze. She mimics typical reactions: “Oh, it’s gross, it’s nasty! I spit it out.”