SAN RAMON -- Students at Dougherty Valley High School filed into the campus theater, talking and laughing as they found their seats. A music video splashed on a screen, and the sound system reverberated throughout, creating an atmosphere of excitement mixed with the chatter.
On this recent Monday, however, students weren't gathered for a typical pep rally or assembly. They were brought together for the launch of Teen Esteem's powerful new "YOUR Choice" assembly.
It is a program that the Alamo-based Teen Esteem program will present to high schools throughout the Tri-Valley with the simple message that making good choices can sometimes be a matter of life and death.
Karie Chamberlain, a Dougherty Valley history teacher, knows all too well what happens when a loved one takes prescription drugs and mixes them with alcohol. She shared her story with students about losing her younger brother, Kyle, three years ago.
Kyle, who suffered from a sporting injury, was given prescription drugs by a friend after they had both been drinking, which can be a deadly mix. She described her parents' horror at being told their son was dead and the sick feeling she felt when she rushed to her parents' home to find the street filled with the eerily flashing lights from several police cars and fire trucks.
She shared with the students that April 12 would have been Kyle's 26th birthday and that she mourns the loss of not only his life, but that "Kyle's death means there are memories of missed experiences such as never seeing me get married, holding my baby and he will never be a part of Sunday dinners -- where, to this day there is always an empty chair at the table."
The assembly -- a mixture of video presentations and live speakers with powerful stories -- was meshed together by moderator Ben Johnson. Powerful and to the point, Johnson also used humor to get the message across to the teens about choices they make and the consequences of experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol. He keeps the program flowing between emotional accounts from the speakers, to bringing laughter into the auditorium, as he describes the awkwardness of teenage dating.
Among the speakers was Nick Vleisides, director and chaplain for Community Resources for Fire and Law Enforcement, a Teen Esteem board member and former Oakland Raider Tony Stewart. Vleisides told the students his heart drops each time he gets a call from dispatch, because it means another teen has committed suicide. He said the feeling of sitting in the home of these parents, as they all wait for the coroner to arrive, is something indescribable.
"Although teens are faced with anxiety, stress and fear, suicide is never an option to a problem and the effects suicide leaves on family and friends is devastating," he said. Vleisides encouraged students to talk to someone.
"Suicide devastates everyone in the entire community, so please talk to somebody if you have these thoughts in your mind," he said.
Speaker Tony Stewart, president and founder of Beyond The Locker, told the young audience that although doing the right thing doesn't always mean you will be popular with your peers, it will help them be able to look back on their teen years with dignity and pride for the good choices they have made.
The debut of the "YOUR Choice" assembly at Dougherty Valley was a major occasion for Teen Esteem.
"The "YOUR Choice" assembly for high school students has been a vision of ours for over five years, said Teen Esteem founder Linda Turnbull, of Alamo. "Students are empowered and encouraged that even though high school can be a time of pressure and stress, it is also a time to have fun and make good choices that they can benefit from for a lifetime."
Turnbull said the assemblies are made possible in part by financial support from Safeway, the V.O. Smith Family Foundation and The Diablo Country Club Charitable Foundation. Visit www.teenesteem.com to learn more about the organization. To book a school assembly, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.