When Lea Minalga's son was 16, someone offered him heroin and it changed his life.
It also changed hers.
Minalga went back to school, became a drug counselor and founded Hearts of Hope, a group that fights drugs and alcohol addiction through education, advocacy and support.
"When parents don't think they have a problem with their kids, they become almost complacent and say, 'My goodness, that will never happen to my kid,' " the Geneva woman said. "Years ago, I had that same mindset. Parents need to get as much education as they possibly can because there's so much temptation out there. You've got to get out and go to these things because they could happen to you. Parents can't teach what they don't know."
Minalga will be on hand April 16 for the latest installment of "Parents: You Matter," a series of drug education forums hosted by the Kane County Sheriff's Department.
It will be held at 7 p.m. at Christ Community Church, 37W100 Bolcum Road, St. Charles, and will feature Minalga, Sheriff Pat Perez, and a testimonial from recovering heroin addict Carrie Brummel, a Batavia woman who has been clean for 10 years after getting hooked on drugs at 15.
The Kane County Juvenile Drug Court also is hosting a drug prevention forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Charles East High School.
Kane County Sheriff's Lt. Pat Gengler said the more chances parents have to learn, the better.
"It's not inner-city addiction, what the old picture of heroin was. These are some well off, suburban families. You can make a lot of arrests, but I don't think that paints a picture of how bad it is," he said. "If somebody can't get to one (forum), we hope they can get to another one. When it comes to kids, there can never be too much (education)."
Minalga's son is now 30, recovering and employed. The road back has not been easy nor cheap, and it's come with criminal convictions and the constant calling of the drug.
"It's been a battle to save his life. We want parents and children to avoid the kind of hell we've been through," said Minalga, who has attended funerals of more than 100 heroin addicts. "I wish somebody had a drug forum for me when my son was in sixth grade. I had no clue heroin was in St. Charles. If your kid is 2, you should be at (a drug forum) because they'll be 12 before you know it."
The program is free, open to the public and no registration or reservations are required.
The program also will look at the dangers of prescription drugs and synthetic marijuana.