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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Families in Action tackles teen drugs

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

An Iowa parent-turned-activist speaks in SL.

Over the past 20 years, officials of the Storm Lake Community School District have used various drug prevention programs such as D.A.R.E. in an effort to curb substance abuse among students in the district.

Last week, Paul Dunbar added his program to that list.

Dunbar presented Kids & Drugs: "It's Your Life" to students at Storm Lake High School and Storm Lake Middle School last Tuesday, a talk filled with personal experiences and stories aimed at preventing young people from beginning to use drugs and alcohol in middle and high school.

Dunbar, who began speaking to students in 1984, said he has been amazed at how common many drugs are in high schools, and said his focus is on helping young people recognize the risks of drugs and the negative impact substance abuse can have on their lives.

He said his message is especially important now, as he has seen drug use seep down from the high school to middle school level over the years.

"I can't believe the things I've seen in 20 years," Dunbar said. "I knew high school students were at risk before, but I never envisioned having to talk to fifth and sixth graders. It's disturbing to see how much of a problem this is around the country, and that's the reason I'm doing this. I want to make a difference."

Dunbar became concerned after watching a television news program on Cedar Rapids-based KCRG in 1980 detailing the lives of high school students who were able to readily obtain drugs in their own high school in New York City.

After watching the program, he asked his daughter, Jennifer, who was a senior at Cedar Falls High School, if the drug problem was widespread there as well.

Dunbar expected his daughter to tell him that drugs could not be purchased at Cedar Falls, but the answer she gave floored him.

"She said, 'Dad, what type of drug do you want?' and that just bothered me so much," Dunbar said. "It made me mad that drugs were that accessible to young people in high school, and I decided to do something about it."

In 1982, Dunbar founded Families in Action, a parent support group in Cedar Falls, and that same year he led the charge to create a Model Drug Paraphernalia City Ordinance in the town, which was subsequently passed by the City Council.

Two years later, he sold the jewelry business he had owned for 20 years to start up Kids & Drugs, and has been presenting his program for the past 17 years to students across the nation.

A native Iowan, Dunbar gives many of his presentations in the state, but he said he has been able to share his message with students from across the nation.

Dunbar said he is sometimes away from his home in Cedar Falls for over a month in order to give talks, but he said the time on the road was all worth it.

"I'll go anywhere I can get the opportunity to go, and that means going anywhere across the country," Dunbar said. "It's that important to me. I've witnessed the devastating effects drugs can have on young people, and that's why this is such an important topic to address to students. I want to prevent drugs from harming any more young people."

Dunbar has not only been able to share his message with students across the nation but has also been able to talk with other people who are also trying to reduce the drug problem in the United States.

He has held meetings with Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Former United States Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and Former Director of the F.B.I. and C.I.A. William Webster, and has also visited with numerous secondary education leaders around America.

Dunbar said he has learned that one of the most important aspects of his talks is to speak directly to the kids and try to make them feel a part of his message. He said speaking to and sharing personal experiences with students instead of delivering a lecture consisting only of facts was critical to experiencing success.

"An awful lot of high school and middle school kids have said I've been the first person who has ever talked to them, not at them," Dunbar said. "I don't want to be someone who just gets up there and lectures. I want to try to reach them and personally talk to them to help them become aware of the dangers of drugs."

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