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County families move forward by making 'Good Choices'

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Shelby Burnett was a sharp-shooting point guard for Hope’s Hauser basketball team, a teenager with glowing hoop dreams.

Then everything went dark.

“I let drugs interfere with my basketball career,” she said. “I got busted for two minor consumptions. That really had an effect on me.”

Sobriety’s light began flickering two years later, however, helping Burnett find a path to cleanliness. She battled through the temptations of falling into old habits — abusing alcohol and prescription painkillers.

And with the guidance of counseling, Burnett and her high school boyfriend, Matt Wasson, have been drug-free since February.

“You have to want to quit,” Burnett said.

Now 18 and a freshman at IUPUC, enrolled with hopes of one day achieving a bachelor’s degree in nursing, Burnett has taken measures to help her 13-year-old sister also dodge drugs’ bullets.

Over the summer, she enrolled her family in Guiding Good Choices, a series of five-week drug-and-alcohol prevention classes targeted at 9- to 14-year-olds.

“I don’t want my sister to make the same mistakes that I did,” Burnett said.

A 2011 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse declared that teen substance abuse is the nation’s No. 1 public-health problem.

The report said that 90 percent of Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction began smoking, drinking or using other drugs before age 18.

Bartholomew County received a $68,000 grant from the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction to help fund Guiding Good Choices.

The second session started Wednesday with 12 new families hoping their children see the guiding light it took Burnett so long to find.

“I’d never been taught all the skills to say no to drugs, how to get away with it without feeling like, ‘Well, I’m not going to have any friends if I do this,’” Burnett said. “I wish my mom would’ve done it for me.”

Burnett’s father couldn’t help. He died when Burnett was 9, requiring his wife to provide for the family and his oldest daughter to grow up fast. Burnett cooked for her 4-year-old sister while their mother worked.

“She went through a rough time,” Burnett said. “One of the reasons we took the Guiding Good Choices classes was to build bonds so she can become a better parent.”

After all, there’s still time.

Burnett’s younger sister said she feels pressure to smoke cigarettes and marijuana but releases it by simply saying no and walking away.

Guiding Good Choices teaches other strategies to avoid drug abuse. But at its core, it’s a program intended to help strengthen family bonds.

“One of the the things we’re really learning is how much the strengthening of family bonds can reduce the risk factors for teenagers,” said Melissa Newland, local prevention coordinator for Guiding Good Choices.

Earlier this month, Guiding Good Choices national consultant Dorothy Gylin-Bennett certified 15 facilitators of the program through a three-day session at Centerstone. They were introduced to the program’s methods of instruction.

Parents in the program are asked to take a look within and ask what they really want for their child. They’re taught how to develop family policies to avoid life’s booby traps. And they’re encouraged to think of ways to expand a child’s role in family.

“This class should be more well known so parents can have an opportunity to help their kids not to do drugs,” Burnett said. “Because a lot of parents are clueless about what goes on.”

Sitting next to her fiance, Burnett tapped her engagement ring on a desk within a Centerstone room, a few weeks removed from Guiding Good Choices. She encouraged her younger sister to talk about the program, but her younger sister was short on words, avoiding eye contact.

“Talk,” Burnett said to her sister. “It’s OK.”

Looking up, Burnett’s younger sister smiled and spoke sparingly, but included in her short list of words were praise for Guiding Good Choices. And words of love for her sister.

All signs indicated that Guiding Good Choices had achieved its goal.

“The whole program is just based on that bonding,” Gylin-Bennett said, “just making sure they’re bonded to you and don’t want to hurt your heart.”

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