The Courage to Speak© Foundation began shortly after I lost my son Ian to heroin and prescription drug overdose. In the years that followed, I came to understand first hand the behaviors that enabled and perpetuated the disease of addiction. I did the best I could as a parent, but the disease was bigger than he was.

I started the Courage to Speak Foundation with a mission and promise to Ian- to not let this happen to another family. Speaking out about his death, and my experience with the systems that encourage denial and enabling, I knew I could not keep silent. I had to speak out, to let others know the signs and behaviors I painfully came to learn.

Realizing the desperate need from students, parents and schools for prevention knowledge and skills, I reached out to the community and the government to spearhead the development of what has become the Courage to Speak Drug Prevention Education Programs for Grades 4-12 and our multi-session program for parents, Courage to Speak-Courageous Parenting 101 Opioid Crisis.

Our newest program, The Courage to Speak®-Courageous Parenting 101 “Parenting Through the Opioid Crisis and Beyondwas developed in response to the Opioid Crisis in our Nation. Adapted from the original multi-session drug prevention education program, this offers parents pertinent information they need to help keep their children safe during the opioid epidemic. Adapted from the original multi-session drug prevention education program, this offers parents pertinent information they need to help keep their children safe during the opioid epidemic.

The Courage to Speak® Drug Prevention Education Programs comprise a unique multi-component, holistic model that engages home, school and community to address youth drug abuse and provide students, parents, educators and others with knowledge and skills to achieve healthy solutions.

These Programs, developed by experts in the field of drug prevention education, are a combination of Ian’s story and the latest research on Social and Emotional skill building exercises that our children and parents need to live healthy drug free lives.

Evaluated through independent research, including Yale University School of Medicine, the programs were found to produce significant positive changes in: social behavior, communication, understanding the risk of drug use, coping strategies and many others.

What makes The Courage to Speak Drug Prevention Education programs so effective is the ability for students, parents and community members to first “personalize the risk” of drug use. What does this mean? It is an answer to the deeply held belief by those in denial, “It can never happen to me”.

Based upon research in behavioral science and prevention, the Programs target the first, and most difficult obstacle to drug prevention: Denial. Unlike other drug prevention programs, we have discovered through the power of Ian’s story, whether I present live or through my video, we capture the attention of audience’s young and old. Through Ian’s story, audience members are introduced to the dangers of drug use and come to understand the risk is REAL, or “personalize the risk”, and is remembered for years to come.

The Courage to Speak© Presentation is the foundation of the work and programs. Through Ian’s story, audience members come to learn the tragic story of a young mans losing battle with drugs, beginning with cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana and leading to his tragic death. Along the way, parents, students and others come to learn how denial and enabling, whether my own or other community members, perpetuate the disease of addiction, and what they can do to prevent it.

The programs and curriculum are developed upon Protection Motivation Theory. The first two components of this Theory were discussed above, and are part of the Courage to Speak® Presentation and Curriculum/Programs activities and objectives:

  1. Introducing the negative outcome of a behavior is severe (the death of a peer or child)
  2. The risk of the negative outcome happening to them is REAL (the real story told in The Courage to Speak© Presentation, or through eyes and ears of the family pet Sunny in Sunny’s Story: A Drug Prevention Book).

The next two components of the Theory addressed in the Courage to Speak Curriculum are:

  1. Understanding clear steps to reduce risk of use and making healthy decisions
  2. Building confidence in the ability to make healthy choices.

These are components are addressed through activities in the curriculum that encourage: Positive family communication, positive peer influence, honesty, personal and social responsibility and enhancing self-esteem.

Through various social and emotional skill building lessons such as: skillful emotional expression, group discussions, finding trusted adults to talk to, decision making strategies, drug refusal skills, effective communication and others, students and parents begin to understand and practice important skills they can use to feel confident to create a healthy lifestyle, free from drugs.

The tools and skills students and parents learn through the Courage to Speak Drug Prevention Education Programs are the vehicle to a healthy and happier life, for themselves and their community. At the center of the Courage to Speak® Foundation is the message that it is OK to ask for help and not to be afraid to speak out when a peer or family member is in need. They come to learn the power of their voice: to advocate for themselves, for others and to end the silence surrounding drug use.

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