SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — On Wednesday, South Portland High School seniors made their first pitch for a “Sober Season” of proms and graduation parties.
With posters, placards and a #soberseason Twitter hashtag, the seniors joined peers from Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Gorham and Westbrook to launch the campaign with the slogan, “The power is in your hands to set a new norm.”
Developed last month at a workshop organized by Communities Promoting Health Coalition, the campaign promotes sobriety through prom and graduation seasons.
Ryan Ely, one of four South Portland student organizers, said he enjoyed developing and implementing the message.
“The hashtag is up to date,” Ely said. “Kids are always on Twitter.”
In Scarborough, 2010 Scarborough High School graduate Kevin Grondin said sobriety and vigilance are the ways to keep the season safe and happy.
“You never know,” Grondin said. “Anything can happen.”
He knows that all too well.
Last Friday, Grondin stood on an embankment just north of the intersection of Payne, Scarborough Downs and Holmes roads, where on May 8, 2010, a car driven by his best friend, Scarborough resident Steven Delano, landed after being hit by a tanker truck.
“It’s a dangerous time of year. We weren’t doing anything that night,” Grondin said.
Grondin and Gorham High School students Kayla Mae Carpenter and Julia Waters were headed to the Italian Heritage Center in Portland for the Gorham High School prom. Delano was driving them.
Scarborough police said roads were wet, but conditions were fairly clear, and Delano had a green light when he tried to cross Payne Road. On impact, the Pontiac was pushed north on Payne Road before it rolled down the embankment.
Police said drugs and alcohol were not a factor in the accident. Truck driver Nathan Allen was indicted on a manslaughter charge in September 2010, but the charge was dropped about a year later by the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office.
Waters and Carpenter had non-life-threatening injuries. Grondin suffered head and body injuries that kept him in Maine Medical Center and New England Rehabilitation Hospital for three weeks. The injuries put an end to his hopes for a career in the U.S. Air Force.
“I have gone through more therapy than you can ever imagine,” he said.
This year, the last scholarship in memory of Steven Delano will be awarded to a Scarborough senior. Delano’s mother, Cindy, said the Class of 2013 were freshmen when her son died, the last class that would have known him at school.
“I know that whole day was a great day for him. There was a lot of great things, a lot of good memories to hold on to,” Delano said, recalling the hours before her son left for the prom.
The scholarship will be gone, but Scarborough High School senior Jessica Meader said she wants Sober Season to become a new tradition.
“This message is different than others because we’re giving the kids the power to make their own decisions,” Meader said in a press release. “With this we hope to possibly start a chain reaction for years to come.”
Meader, Senior Class President Jack Sullivan, and juniors Matt Morrell and Rachel Wallace represented the Scarborough school at Camp Ketcha last month.
They were joined by South Portland senior Jackson Beck, who is student Senate president and a student representative on the South Portland School Board.
“It made sense to get involved,” Beck said. “Everyone there recognized we couldn’t tell students what to do. They have this power and it guides them in the right direction.”
Beck and Ely were helped by seniors Colton Gervais, Aleina Peluso and Sonita Hav.
“I think it helps students when they see other students are doing this campaign,” Peluso said.
The coalition, a program of South Portland-based nonprofit Opportunity Alliance, includes school staff and officials taking their cue from students.
Coalition Substance Abuse Prevention Program Manager Bridget O’Connor said she enjoyed seeing the students’ effort.
“It is nice to see the leaders take a stand,” she said.
In addition, Officer Robert Scarpelli, the South Portland Police Department youth aide, has distributed campaign material to city tuxedo rental shops and florists. Cards attached to rental bills or corsages inform students attending schools inside and outside the coalition about Sober Season.
Scarborough Student Assistance Counselor Molly Montgomery said students are beginning to get the word out at school and are looking for businesses to post the message, too.
Kara Tierney-Trevor, a licensed social worker at South Portland High School, said spreading the message about prevention is better than what she often faces.
“Usually, my role is to intervene after the fact,” Tierney-Trevor said.
Grondin and Delano said they want students to have fun, but to also recognize the world is not always safe.
“You like to feel you are invincible, but unfortunately, there are those realities,” Delano said.