Parental outreach, drug prevention workshops
A former drug user-turned-motivational speaker riveted audiences full of students and parents in the Alta School District with messages of staying away from substance abuse and becoming better parents on Tuesday, presenting a series of seminars designed to help adults and youth meet and overcome the issues of today's culture.
Chuck Peterson, 42, the founder of Alive & Well, an organization dedicated to guiding people through issues such as student leadership, drugs, resolving conflicts and improving family relationships, spoke to elementary and secondary students and parents at three separate assemblies on Tuesday, and said his work at Alta and other schools was something he thoroughly enjoyed.
"I really have a passion to reach young people with the truth," Peterson, 42, said. "I want to bring hope to them and help them gain the ability to see something very positive in their futures."
That passion of Peterson, who has been married to wife Linda for 21 years and has three sons, has been enhanced by his own encounters with drugs, alcohol and premarital sex, experiences he openly talks about with his audiences to give them an in-depth look at how those choices made serious impacts in his life.
Peterson took his first drink of alcohol when he was 14, and quickly moved to harder substances such as marijuana and PCP, beginning a period of experimentation with a wide range of drugs that continued until his junior year of high school, when he decided to quit using drugs. However, he continued to abuse alcohol excessively, and then welcomed a son into the world when he was 18, changing his life completely.
The defining moment for Peterson came during a domestic argument he had with his wife when he was 24, an incident which prompted him to reevaluate his priorities and choose to eliminate alcohol from his life.
"I realized then that if things didn't change, then I would lose everything I had always wanted," Peterson said. "I would lose the stable family, I would lose a great wife, I would lose my kids, I would lose the chance to be a good husband and father. I would lose everything if I didn't stop and change, and I didn't want that. That was the main reason I decided to change."
After two years of being substance-free, Peterson said he received an even greater boost by becoming a born-again Christian, a spiritual change made possible after receiving encouragement from a local Schwan's driver. He said the impact of his new Christ-centered outlook on life was tremendous.
"It really helped me to understand for the first time what I could do with my life," Peterson said. "Here I hadn't been drinking for two years and I still didn't feel very good with myself at all, and once I became a born-again Christian it seemed like the void I was feeling in my life became full. It really was a life-changing event."
Peterson then began the Alive & Well program in 1989 after meeting young band members who were trying to use music to bring a positive message of staying away from drugs and alcohol to students. A former drummer, Peterson fit in well with the band, but soon decided to scale back the approach to a solo speaking act without music, creating the current version of his organization.
The Burnsville, Minn., resident's message of hope remains the same whether talking to elementary students, high school pupils or parents in districts such as Alta, but he said he takes different approaches to the subject with each age group.
During his K-6 program, Peterson talks about the need to respect others, see parents and siblings as friends and be able to resolve conflicts to in order to create positive self-esteem, an ingredient he said is vital to preventing any future substance abuse. The 7-12 assembly program then takes students through Peterson's life, mixing humor and crowd interaction with a core message about how unwise choices can lead to unintended - and possibly negative - consequences.
"These guys already know about all of the bad things that can happen," Peterson said. "They already know all of the statistics and other information. What I want to show them is that there is a consequence for every choice, and it may not be the consequence they thought was going to happen. We can control our choices but we can't control the consequences of those choices, and that's what I want to get across."
In addition to his talks to young people, the Alive & Well founder also delivers presentations to parents asking them to be good role models for their children and teaching them about taking responsibility in their own lives and their children's lives.
"It's important to talk to parents because parents are the number one influence of kids if - and that's the key word, if - they want to be," Peterson said. "Kids will listen to their parents, but parents need to take responsibility and be loving and take a genuine interest in their kids' lives."
Peterson said he is not sure how long he will continue to bring the Alive & Well program into small-town gymnasiums like the ones in Alta, but he said he is inspired every time he comes to schools and sees a group of students looking to receive a little encouragement in the world.
"I really believe in what I'm doing," Peterson said. "It's exciting to be able to help bring hope to this generation."