JOLIET - The Will County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition hosted a forum at Joliet West High School on Tuesday with hundreds of students from District 204.
The event also included special guests like Joliet native, Super Bowl champion and former Chicago Bear Tom Thayer, television analyst and former Chicago Bulls Head Coach Doug Collins, Bradley University Assistant Women's Basketball Coach Christena Hamilton, Vanderbilt University Associate Head Coach Roger Powell, and Cameron Payne of the Chicago Bulls.
Local officials like Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow and Will County Sheriff Mike Kelley, who moderated the event, were also in attendance.
Dianna Feeney, the Director of Clinical Services at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, or TASC, was also one of the speakers and shared her story addiction and recovery with the students.
“I had a lot of great encouragement and great advice from people that I didn't listen to,” Feeney said. “I felt as a teenager I needed to make my own mistakes and my own decisions.”
She was also in charge of providing some facts about drugs and alcohol, reminding them about the scope of the number of people affected by drugs and alcohol. Specifically, she informed them that alcohol is more deadly than all other drugs in the number of people it kills a year.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 88,000 people a year die because of alcohol in some way. About 25,000 of those are due to direct overdoses.
Feeney stressed the effects it has on young people, whose brains are still developing, and how she does not want them to make decisions they will regret later in life.
“The hardest lesson learned in recovery is looking back,” she said. “Having to look back and see all the 'What ifs?'”
The speaker who captivated the students the most was Pastor Jolinda Wade of New Creation Church and the mother of Chicago Bull Dwyane Wade. She spoke about her bouts with alcoholism and drugs as she was raising her family.
“I had a dream,” Wade said. “My dream went a whole different direction and I started making decisions about my delusion, because I was delusional.”
Wade told the story about how her addiction affected her family so much that one day, when Dwyane came home, he saw an ambulance nearby and assumed it was for his mother. He ran inside their home crying and scared only to find his mother there just fine. Still, Wade said it took her a long time to get clean while she was in jail.
“It's a wonder I'm up here today,” she said.
All the other speakers had their own messages of encouragement and advice for success. Payne told the students to always listen to adults and older role models in life. Thayer said to look for those adults who can help them in a tough situation and Powell, a Joliet native, said saying no to drugs, alcohol or anything that could derail their success was key to remaining focused on achieving their goals.
“I believe there is greatness in every single last one of you,” Powell said to the students, whom he called family. “But drugs, alcohol, bad choices, bad relationships, that is the enemy that's trying to destroy the greatness in front of you.”