Project Bald Eagle takes drug education into Sunday school

The Revs. John Manno and Gwen Bernstine have helped develop a Sunday school program in an effort to positively influence young minds to steer clear of harmful drugs. MEGAN BLOOM/Sun-Gazette

The opioid epidemic has affected the lives of people throughout the nation and Lycoming County is not exempt.

In an effort to positively influence young minds to steer clear of harmful drugs, the Revs. John Manno, the former priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Montoursville, and Gwen Bernstine, executive director of the United Churches of Lycoming County, have helped develop a Sunday school program with that in mind.

The program — Prevention Through Faith Intervention — is part of Project Bald Eagle’s faith component.

Ten lessons cover the topics of acceptance, affirmation, appreciation, care, courage, creativity, hope, relief, safety and success.

“All of the lessons give kids reasons … to not get involved with drugs and alcohol,” Bernstine said. “It gives them the strength to say, ‘I don’t need that, I’m already OK on my own.’ “

The program is not an effort to replace drug abuse education, but rather to back it up by teaching youth about self esteem, relaxation and natural highs.

Each lesson takes scripture from the Old and New Testaments that relate to one another. Teachers will have questions to ask students about the objective of the stories and how it can relate to drugs.

For example, the acceptance lesson focuses on the importance of accepting yourself and others. It also reminds the students of God’s unconditional acceptance of His people.

Manno said people should try to deepen their thoughts and insights to get a natural high rather than one through drugs.

“With drugs you go up then you crash,” he said.

Instead of turning to narcotics to get through life, listening to music, calling a friend or reading a book can be better alternatives.

One of the other aspects of the lessons are incorporating relaxation techniques into each class that students can apply to their lives.

Manno has used relaxation techniques in previous Sunday school classes and his students enjoyed it, he said. He asks them to sit in a comfortable position then relax from head to toe.

“I add beach sounds or imagery, such as experiencing Jesus Christ walking towards them,” he said.

In that scenario Manno will instruct the students to imagine what Jesus looks like, what He is going to say and how they would reply.

By relaxing and stimulating the five senses, one can expand his or her consciousness, which will expand their mind, he said.

Danielle Hardy, West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission preventive program specialist, said the Sunday school program could help promote more conversation about making good life choices.

The environment of a class has the possibility of creating a bond between the instructor and the kids. Having positive role models youth can be open with is beneficial for all individuals.

Religion is one of the protective factors that dissuade people from abusing drugs and alcohol.

“People are less likely to engage in problem behaviors (if they are religious),” Hardy said.

In her role with West Branch, Hardy teaches a program called “Too Good for Drugs,” which has similar points as the project lessons, such as being creative and setting goals.

“Drugs and alcohol won’t help them reach those goals,” she said. “Addiction can affect motivation then that becomes what is important, not that goal.”

Hardy thinks it is good that members of Project Bald Eagle are working to get positive information to more children through a different avenue.

Steve Murphy Shope, Project Bald Eagle executive director, said by adding the Sunday school curriculum into the realm of the faith community, it gets the message out to more people. It is another tool in the toolbox to continue having conversations about drugs.

It is less about anti-drug but rather it is more focused on developing good decision-making skills, improving self esteem and building character.

“They created a curriculum people will feel comfortable including in what they’re already doing,” Shope said.

It is essential to have an open dialogue about the opioid epidemic in America. Through the lessons more people will be able to be more informed and if they need help, they can figure out what is best for them.

Bernstine and Manno hope all faiths will add the curriculum into their classes for youth.

“We have to do something (to end this epidemic),” Bernstine said. “We have to be able to make an impact on kids so they don’t get started. It is much better to not start than to try to quit it … since it is not easy.”

Manno said they are doing the program for the children. He does not want anymore young lives to be lost to drugs.

They hope to include videos in the future to enhance the lessons.

The full curriculum is online at