Lyme-Old Lyme students' campaign aims to encourage confidence, avoid substance abuse

Old Lyme — Inside Lyme-Old Lyme High School's commons area, a wall features colorful post-it notes scribbled with students' answers to questions, from what they think their best qualities are to what they would tell their younger selves.

"My intelligence," "my dedication," "kindness towards others," "optimism," and "I'm empathetic," are among their answers for their best qualities. They would encourage their younger selves that "things work out," "Perseverance is key!" and "To be yourself."

The notes are all part of a larger social marketing campaign, #ProAtBeingMe, that students started to help their peers feel more confident and avoid substance abuse — a message they hope will spread beyond Lyme-Old Lyme to other communities.

The students found inspiration in Chris Herren, a former NBA basketball player who shares with youths his story of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction and encourages them to be a "pro" at being themselves. Herren spoke at Lyme-Old Lyme High School during an assembly earlier this month.

"One of his main messages is that kids shouldn't need substances to become who they truly are and become their most confident, so our message is just to be a pro at being yourself and be confident in who you are," said Emma Sked, 17, a high-school junior.

As teens face pressure to be the best academically, excel athletically or be popular, the campaign is intended to encourage them to be confident in who they are, rather than be influenced by pressure from other people, said Sked.

Students from the REACH Club (Responsible Educated Adolescents Can Help), sponsored by the Lyme/Old Lyme Community Action for Substance Free Youth and Lymes' Youth Service Bureau, planned the campaign over five months.

During Herren's visit on Friday, Lyme-Old Lyme students received purple #ProAtBeingMe wristbands, wrote reflections and discussed the assembly in their advisory groups.

The REACH students created a video, filmed and edited by Sked, and are also encouraging their peers to post photos of themselves on Instagram with the hashtag #ProAtBeingMe.

The students created an approximately seven-minute video, filmed and edited by Sked, that features students answering the questions of "What is the nicest compliment you've ever been given?"; "When do you feel most confident?"; "What do you think is your best non-physical quality?"; "When have you felt insecure and how did you overcome it?"; and "What would you tell your younger self about what really matters?"

"We didn't want our campaign to just be 'don't do drugs.' We think that's a negative message. We wanted it to be more of a positive message of: 'If you're confident in who you are, you don't need the drugs,'" said Emily O'Brien, 16, a sophomore.

Sophomore Brynn McGlinchey, 15, said she hopes the campaign will make people more open with each other and feel more confident in talking to their friends, teachers, and counselors about their problems. She said whether students have a problem with a mental health issue or their family, or they feel as if they're not fitting in or are struggling academically, she hopes they feel as if their friends won't judge them and that they can talk to their teachers and counselors without fear of retribution.

Missy Garvin, LYSB youth programs director, said there is not one "right answer" to what a "pro at being me" means, and it can be something big or small. 

During the video, one student notes that when she was younger, she tried to fit others' expectations of her, but now she does things for herself, not others, and meets her own expectations.

Another student said his biggest insecurity was thinking about what others thought of him and not wanting to seem stupid or have others think less of him, but he now realizes that doesn't necessarily matter.

For McGlinchey, the message means being someone you can look at in the mirror at the end of each day and say "I'm proud of myself. I'm putting myself on the best path that I can, and my siblings look up to me. If I were younger, I would look up to myself. I can be a role model and be myself."

"Like Chris [Herren] said, being confident with yourself doesn't mean that you're perfect," said Sarah Hayward, 15, a sophomore. "It just means that you're happy with the way you are."

More information is available at www.proatbeingme.com or www.lysb.org.

k.drelich@theday.com

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