SODA members attend ‘Live Above the Influence Day’ at state capitol

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Eight members from MFL MarMac’s SODA club attended “Live Above the Influence Day” at the Iowa State Capitol on Feb. 28. While there, attendees Saysha Schoulte (left), Ashley Weaver, Anna Stoddard, Breanna Knickerbocker, Mackenzy Ruff, Abby Schellhorn, Riley Whitney and Lauren Gillitzer met with legislators Michael Bergan and Anne Osmundson. (Submitted photos)

SODA president and MFL MarMac senior Lauren Gillitzer was a keynote speaker at the press conference held that day.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Alliance Coalitions for Change (AC4C) hosted a “Live Above the Influence Day” for youth at the Iowa State Capitol on Feb. 28. Eight members from MFL MarMac’s high school SODA (Students Opposed to Drugs and Alcohol) club attended the event, along with advisor Jackie McGeough and student council advisor Megan Schellhorn. Julie Doeppke and Tracy Yelden, from the Clayton County 5C Coalition, also accompanied the group.

During the event, McGeough said students from across the state were educated on legal issues in regard to substance abuse and learned how to speak to their legislators about concerns they have in their communities. 

Speakers shared powerful personal experiences, including the loss of loved ones due to drugs or alcohol. 

“That left an impression on me and motivates me to stay drug and alcohol free,” said freshman Abby Schellhorn, who was one of the SODA attendees. 

“One man’s wife was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” added junior Saysha Schoulte. That hit close to home, she said, because she also lost a loved one in a similar way.

For sophomore Anna Stoddard, the most impactful speaker was a neurosurgeon. He spoke about dendrites in the brain, she explained, and noted how they die when people indulge in drug or alcohol abuse. 

Other SODA members said meeting with local legislators Anne Osmundson and Michael Bergan was a highlight. 

“We told them what we thought would promote positive change,” as well as what SODA is doing to make that happen, shared sophomore Riley Whitney. “It was amazing to feel that, as a teenager, you can make an impact.”

“It emphasized a lot that youth have powerful voices,” added senior Breanna Knickerbocker.

One of those powerful voices belonged to SODA president and MFL MarMac senior Lauren Gillitzer, who was a keynote speaker at the press conference held that day.

During her allotted time, Gillitzer asked attendees to imagine a child holding a balloon, running under the sun and enjoying life.

“Everything feels perfect, and for awhile it may appear that way,” she said, but the child soon begins to struggle and the balloon slips from their grip, into the sky. 

Gillitzer compared this child to a sibling or classmate who loses the grip on their own balloon string, and thus loses sight of their goals and aspirations.

“At first, the decision to drink underage doesn’t feel that bad,” she noted. “But once the wind picks up, along with the decision to continue, you could be the next individual inserted into the 30 percent of high schoolers reporting that they have had an alcoholic beverage within the last 30 days.”

Gillitzer said she’s seen classmates and one-time friends alter their lives by letting a “one-time try turn into an every weekend routine.”

“High school is said to be an important time in our lives. It is a time of growth, hardships and self-discovery,” she stated. “Sadly, in my small town, I feel the majority of our student body has experimented with some form of substance abuse. Due to the ignorance of social host laws from parents, students feel no guilt for their decisions. The desire for social acceptance, followed by peer pressure, filters through my hallways every day.”

 If more schools had clubs like SODA, which at MFL MarMac is 70 members strong, she felt fewer students “would lose the grip on their balloon.”

“Healthy is always a word I place next to our bodies. Healthy relationships with friends, healthy habits and healthy choices not only help our bodies, but our well-being as a whole,” Gillitzer concluded. “SODA has brought a sense of responsibility and accountability to our school. I firmly believe if more SODA clubs existed, the attitude toward substance abuse would alter.”

Being at the conference, she said, made her feel like she wasn’t alone in this thinking: “There are other people who are on the same mindset as us.”

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