High school students from Lycoming, Bradford and Tioga counties who attended the 23rd Students Against Destructive Decisions Conference held Tuesday at Pennsylvania College of Technology learned that when it comes to making decisions, "it's all about MEE," - Motivate, Educate and Empower.
Students participated in a variety of activities and heard speakers on topics ranging from texting while driving to drug use.
Chris Smith, of the Community Traffic Safety Program, said the hope is that student representatives attending the conference will take the information back to their schools and educate fellow students. Smith explained it as, "peers educating peers."
Wellsboro High School’s Sarah Kramer, left, and Towanda High School’s Hannah Innocenzo, demonstrate the dangers of texting and driving by playing Mario Kart on a Wii while trying to text during the 23rd Regional SADD Conference at Pennsylvania College of Technology on Tuesday. The workshop, Dangers of Texting and Driving, was presented by Kelly Whitaker, of the Traffic Injury Prevention Project, and Mike Klein, of State Farm Insurance.
"We want to empower them. We want them to go back and as Hughesville (High School SADD Club) said, 'We saw a need and addressed it,'" she said.
In one presentation, students were able to hear a first-hand account of the devastation that destructive decisions can leave behind.
Phil Bauer, whose son died of a prescription drug overdose, told students how unlike most high school graduations, his son Mark's ceremony was filled with "devastation, emptiness and sadness."
"What we were doing was we were staring at an empty chair. Mark was dead," Bauer said of his son who died just a week before graduation.
Bauer called the rising use of prescription drugs in non-medical ways an "epidemic."
"If you're taking a pill for non-medical purposes, you're not taking medicine, you're taking drugs," he said.
Bauer spoke of his son as a "proud dad" saying how Mark could bench press more than 400 pounds and dunk a basketball. But added that the day his son died, the life he knew died, as well.
Mark's autopsy couldn't conclude how long he had been abusing prescription drugs, but Bauer said it only takes one time. Bauer also called himself an "ignorant" parent because he only thought of drug use in terms of illegal drugs.
"I had no clue that young people - anyone - was abusing medicine for non-medical use," he said. " If there were signs, we missed them."
He added that it's all about the decisions students make that can alter their future.
"It's not about good and bad. It's about decisions," Bauer said.
Smith agreed, saying that she hopes students will learn to make the right decision, regardless of what others think.
"It's OK to make the unpopular choices," she said. "I think the message is that it's OK to make a choice that may seem unpopular at the moment. It's OK to take a stand."
When it came to enforcement of underage laws, Scott Berdine, liquor enforcement officer, said purchasing, consuming, possessing or transporting alcohol while under the age of 21 would result in a fine and suspended license.
He added that an underage charge could inhibit students from getting into a college major program.
Students said they felt the impact of the day.
"It definitely opened my eyes to what's going on," said Kaitlyn West, of Towanda High School.
Mike Green, a Loyalsock Township High School student, said the presentations "hit home" because his father was killed in an alcohol-related car crash.
Green hopes to take the lessons he learned at the conference and relay them to his peers. He said he wanted to "communicate that there definitely is a way to have a fun life and be drug- and alcohol-free."
Students also learned that no one is immune to consequences of destructive decisions.
"It could happen to us," said Elizabeth Heeman, of Towanda.