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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Targeting the Roots of Substance Abuse

January 02, 1994|E. J. GONG JR.

Looking back on his days as a crack addict, Solomon Rivera now knows the only way he stopped was through strong personal conviction. Now that he has recovered, Rivera, 30, is passionate about showing high school students how to develop their own convictions to keep drugs and alcohol out of their lives.

"You cannot tell someone not to do something. It must come from their own willingness," Rivera said.

As a coordinator of a state-funded, anti-substance-abuse effort at Jefferson High School, Rivera organizes an array of programs to serve as seeds of hope, possibility and self-esteem. That is the best way, he said, to deter negative influences such as chemical dependency.

The seeds come in the form of anti-drug classes at elementary schools, drives to remove graffiti from campus walls, cleanups of neighborhood streets and a day-care center to keep about 28 young mothers in school. About 180 other youths on the 2,150-student campus have been regularly involved in the programs.

Last month, students in the Community Programs Revitalization project planted flowers in the school's quad area, adding yellows, blues and reds to the drab, off-white walls.

The 3-year-old revitalization project is headed by Norma Mtume, a Jefferson High School graduate. The $500,000-a-year budget is funded by the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

Together, Rivera and Mtume try to prevent drug and alcohol use while enriching the lives of people in the entire community. They offer parenting classes for adults, a community movie screening on Saturday nights and other services for the Jefferson High area.

"We have the infant center," Mtume said, "so that the mothers won't lose out on an education, get depressed and one day turn to drugs or alcohol. Although it just looks like day care, it's also a form of prevention."

Dolores Evangelista, 16, holds her 8-month-old daughter, Esmeralda, next to a set of lockers in the hallway of the school. "If it weren't for the day care, I'd be at home all day," she said. "I want to keep studying because I want to be an example for my daughter and have a good career."

The project is scheduled to end in June, and although many programs, like the infant center, are likely to continue, others won't. But that was the way the project was set up.

"It was never the intention to become entrenched here. We only wanted to plant some seeds and then see what grows," Rivera said.

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