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updated: 1/25/2012 5:50 AM

Grieving parents share stories, insight on alcohol, drugs

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  • Glenbard North High School Students for Students club members Elizabeth Ayala, Marissa Cusumano, Maria Salas, and Ishita Mehta sort brochures to be handed out at special forum on alcohol and drugs Wednesday night at the school. Cusumano, whose cousin died in November after trying synthetic marijuana, will be speaking at the program. "

       Glenbard North High School Students for Students club members Elizabeth Ayala, Marissa Cusumano, Maria Salas, and Ishita Mehta sort brochures to be handed out at special forum on alcohol and drugs Wednesday night at the school. Cusumano, whose cousin died in November after trying synthetic marijuana, will be speaking at the program. "
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • The Glenbard Parent Series often packs school auditoriums, such as this Aug. 24 event when author Dr. Madeline Levine spoke about parental privilege and materialism creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids.

      The Glenbard Parent Series often packs school auditoriums, such as this Aug. 24 event when author Dr. Madeline Levine spoke about parental privilege and materialism creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids.
    Photo courtesy of Jill McCormack/Glenbard Parent S

  • Max Dobner, 19, of Aurora, who died after trying synthetic marijuana he bought at a potpourri store in the mall.

      Max Dobner, 19, of Aurora, who died after trying synthetic marijuana he bought at a potpourri store in the mall.
    Photo courtesy of Dobner family

  • Alexa "Lexie" Bertram, a 17-year-old who overdosed on ecstasy two weeks after graduating from Glenbard North High School in 2008.

      Alexa "Lexie" Bertram, a 17-year-old who overdosed on ecstasy two weeks after graduating from Glenbard North High School in 2008.
    Photo courtesy of Bertram family

  • Glenbard North High School wrestler Jonathan Petit, pictured in his sophomore class photo, died after an underage drinking party.

      Glenbard North High School wrestler Jonathan Petit, pictured in his sophomore class photo, died after an underage drinking party.
    Photo courtesy of Petit family

  • Glenbard North High School alumnus Paul Grogan died of a heroin overdose in November.

      Glenbard North High School alumnus Paul Grogan died of a heroin overdose in November.
    Photo courtesy of Grogan family

  • Michael Beljung, a Glenbard North student and football player, died in November after smoking synthetic marijuana.

      Michael Beljung, a Glenbard North student and football player, died in November after smoking synthetic marijuana.
    Photo courtesy of Beljung family

 
 

The Glenbard Parent Series gets national praise because it manages to do something few schools or organizations are able to consistently do: get parents to attend educational forums.

The program's A-list speakers on parenting topics like "The Price of Privilege" and "Raising Resilient Teens" have filled high school auditoriums monthly for the past three years. However, this month's forum is different, and won't feature famous authors or renowned child psychology experts.

Five local families who have recently lost children to alcohol and drugs -- some as recently as two months ago -- will share what they've learned about things like depression in teens, the code of silence among kids, new drugs, and the "not my child" mindset that's prevalent in the suburbs.

"Update on Teen Substance Abuse: Personal Stories of Young Lives Lost to Alcohol and Other Drugs" is free and open to the public, and will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, at Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream. A full house is expected.

"We don't have park benches anymore where parents sit down and get information. This is the new park bench, and people are onto it," said Gilda Ross, who coordinates the events. "There's no hiding the fact that we've had some tragedies recently. Parents need to have the latest information, because our kids know what's out there and what's available."

Parent volunteer Maria Depa came up with the idea for this forum after the death two months ago of Michael Beljung, a Glenbard North student and football player who died after ingesting synthetic marijuana.

"Here's a kid who's just like the boy next door ... and I didn't even know what synthetic marijuana was," Depa said. "This was the fourth death from substances I'd heard of, so I said, 'We need to do something.' I don't think parents are aware of what this stuff is."

Synthetic marijuana will be just one of the issues discussed, both by Beljung's cousin, Glenbard North student Marissa Cusumano, and Aurora mom Karen Dobner, whose 19-year-old son Max, died after buying the drug at a local potpourri shop, smoking it, and then crashing his car into a house last summer. Since then, she's successfully campaigned to have the synthetic drug banned in Illinois, but it's still out there.

Other panelists include:

• Larry Grogan, whose son, Paul, a Glenbard North alumnus, died of a heroin overdose in November 2011 after a battle with addiction;

• Doug Petit, whose 16-year-old son Jonathan, a Glenbard North wrestler, attended an underage drinking party in 2005 and was found drowned in a retention pond near his home; and

• Micki Krzywy, whose 17-year-old daughter, Alexa "Lexie" Bertram, died of an ecstasy overdose in 2008, two weeks after graduating from Glenbard North.

"It has a face. And they all have a different story," Depa said. "The fact that people are willing to get up and speak about what happened to their family, it holds a lot more power than just having an expert come and talk to you."

Also on Wednesday night's panel are DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin and Linda Lewaniak, director of Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital's Center for Addiction Medicine.

Glenbard Parent Series programs always focus on bringing in speakers who will share information in a way that's not accusatory or academic, but conversational and relevant. That's the organizers' hope with this program featuring grieving parents.

"It's not just the information they get from the program, but the conversations that go on afterward," Ross said. "With this series, we've made it part of the culture."

That's why numerous local businesses have partnered with the Glenbard Parent Series, and others have contributed money to the effort. Some programs are offered in Spanish, and free baby-sitting is always provided. The programs are promoted to, and often attended by, families in the surrounding junior high and elementary schools.

"Every single time a speaker comes, they say the same thing: 'There is no other program like the Glenbard Parent Series in the country,'" Ross said. "This is a community cooperative resource ... and it's truly remarkable."

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