HUDSON — A group of Hudson High school seniors are hoping to change the way people see their city while becoming examples to their peers.
One hundred students in four districts in Columbia County are taking part this year in “Living the Example” — a peer-to-peer mentor program as part of Mentor USA Foundation.
The program is in its second year at Germantown, Ichabod Crane and Taconic Hills central school districts, said Kamal Johnson, 1st Ward Alderman and coordinator for the program at the Columbia County schools.
About a dozens students are participating in the program’s first year at Hudson High School.
“It [the program] really inspired me,” said 17-year-old Maya Alvarez, youth ambassador and Hudson High senior. “I just wanted to give back to the community and let community know what is good about our high school. There have been a lot of bad things said about Hudson, but there are many good things about Hudson, such as its diversity, that the community needs to know about that.”
The program is different than Drug Abuse Resistance Education, more commonly known as D.A.R.E., or other drug prevention programs because students are driving the programming. The students’ proactive approach in their education leads them to more effective change, Johnson said.
“There is no other program that is like that one,” he said. “It’s peer-to-peer and youth talking to each other about real issues in their community. A lot of times programs like to use scare tactics... This is an educational program and we are giving them information and they are able to make choices for themselves.”
The youth ambassadors helped to host a Shattering the Myth rally Monday for freshmen in the school’s auditorium.
The program was designed to dispel the myths surrounding drug abuse and provide an open opportunity to ask questions from a recovering addict.
Long-term recovering addict Tele Rabii, 22, of Sullivan County spoke out about his struggles with drug abuse in high school and college during the assembly.
“It [his drug abuse] got to a point where I wasn’t just using because I wanted to,” Rabii said. “It became an obsession for me. Everything in my life became revolved around using heroin. When I got paid every week, the first thing I would do is buy heroin.”
Students asked Rabii questions about why he began using and how he stopped.
Youth ambassadors are trained in leadership, advocacy and social media to educate their peers and drive schoolwide Change Projects.
“Each school is in charge of two change projects — one in the winter and one in the spring,” Johnson said. “They have a $1,000 budget for each project. That is basically to partner with the organization or to create an event or anything they want they see that is an issue that they think needs to be an issue addressed in their school or community.”
As part of one project, students at Hudson are creating videos to highlight activities kids can do in the community. Boredom was one of the things that motivated Rabii to experiment with drugs, he said.
“Instead of doing drugs, we want to offer some cool things around Hudson that are fun good alternatives,” said Hudson High senior Suman Humagain, 17. “Sports, hiking, biking and outdoor things you can do. We’re in the process of putting it together.”
To become a youth ambassador, students completed a five-week course. As part of their mission, ambassadors are encouraged to engage in positive acts and give back.
Alvarez decided to use the opportunity to raise money for hurricane relief. She heard about the devastation and set up a fundraiser through UNICEF and raised $500 for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.
“It’s [Living the Example] actually meant so much to me,” Alvarez said. “I love being apart of this program and really inspires other people to do good and to give back to the community. It encourages you to not just think about yourself, but think of everyone as a whole.”
Senior Mykal Walters, 17, said she hopes the program will show a different side of Hudson.
“People misjudge Hudson as being a place for drugs and crime and we want to show that,” Walters said. “Hudson is a good school and we have a good support system.”
The program is supported by Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Rip Van Winkle Foundation, Rheinstrom Hill Community Foundation, Hudson River Trust Bank & Trust Co. Foundation and the Columbia County Community Healthcare Consortium Inc.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.