WHITTIER — Taking a leaf from the Great American Smokeout, social agencies here are asking citizens to go 24 hours without using any mind-altering substances.
This Saturday has been designated Sober Saturday by the Whittier City Council. The idea was created by the Substance Abuse Task Force of the Coordinating Council, an umbrella organization of eight Whittier social service agencies. It is co-sponsored by the Rio Hondo College Associated Student Body.
According to Al Mendez, youth services coordinator for the City of Whittier and a member of the task force, the idea is based on the success of the 10-year-old smokeout, which is sponsored by the American Cancer Society to encourage smokers to get through just one day without a cigarette in the hope the smokers will quit entirely.
The Whittier groups are sponsoring a Saturday morning seminar with seven workshops for adults and students, a Saturday night dance at Rio Hondo College for students only and a free Sunday morning breakfast for all participants. Students with ID will be admitted free to the seminar and dance; admission to the seminar is $5 for others. Attendance at the seminar is a prerequisite for students wishing to attend the dance.
All participants must sign a pledge that they will abstain from any intoxicating, mind-altering, non-medical substances from sunrise Saturday to sunrise Sunday.
Although the idea is addressed to all age groups, Mendez said, it is having an unexpectedly high response from teen-agers.
"We thought at first there would be about 50 people altogether, mostly professionals and parents asking, 'How do I deal with my kids?' " he said. "Now we expect about 150, many of them young people. Junior high and high school kids say, 'Hey, we can go to a college dance.' The dance is the hook . . . and it worked."
About 60 of the young people who have signed pledges are members of the Whittier Boys and Girls Club. This represents about 10% of the club's membership, according to Ryne Pearson, the club's social recreation director.
"So far, we've had a good response," Pearson said. "There's been very little negative response. I would say that some of the kids here are experimenting with drugs, but it's going to be beneficial even to those who aren't already trying drugs."
The project is in response to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' declaration of March as Drug and Alcohol Abuse Awareness Month.
Mendez said the council is already planning next year's event. "It will be an annual thing," he said, "and we're hoping that it will catch on nationally. There's a chance that it will: It caught on so easily here."