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Article updated: 10/10/2013 8:29 AM

Naperville launching 'ParentsMatterToo' anti-drug initiative

By Joshua Welge

Parents may be the first line of defense in keeping their kids away from the dangers of drugs, but they can't go at it alone.

Now members of a Naperville nonprofit organization are preparing to lend a hand.

Responding to growing concern over heroin use in Naperville that has cost 13 young people their lives since 2011, the nonprofit group KidsMatter is this week launching its ParentsMatterToo initiative. The program is funded in part by a $24,150 grant from the Naperville City Council.

The initiative's website, parentsmattertoo.org, will go live Friday with awareness activities that night at North Central College in conjunction with the Neuqua Valley-Waubonsie Valley football game.

Citing a survey conducted by Drug Free America, KidsMatter Executive Director IdaLynn Wenhold said 67 percent of youngsters believe their parents are their biggest influence with regard to staying drug-free; yet only 30 percent of parents talk regularly with their children about drugs and alcohol.

"That told us that we need to do all we can to connect parents and kids and empower parents to feel more effective in their conversations," Wenhold said.

ParentsMatterToo is taking a three-pronged approach to support parents in their efforts to raise kids who avoid drugs. The interactive website is highlighted by an "Ask the Experts" feature with videotaped professionals' answers to nearly 100 frequently asked questions.

The second component of the program are Parent Conversation Circles, bringing together small groups of parents in meetings around the community for informal discussions on issues impacting their children's lives. Diane Overgard, project coordinator for ParentsMatterToo, said 12 people attended an initial meeting to recruit parent circle facilitators.

"The entire community is rallying around this," said Overgard, a Naperville-area life coach. "We have opened the door to something people are passionate about."

A calendar of speaker programs on a variety of parent education topics will be the third part of ParentsMatterToo.

Friday's football game, expected to draw nearly 10,000 fans, is a visible stage to draw attention to the initiative. Neuqua Valley Principal Bob McBride, a member of the steering committee, said spirit groups from both schools will carry a ParentsMatterToo flag along with their school flag in a semi-parade into the stadium.

Banners will be flown, literature provided and a halftime announcement made touting the initiative. A similar event will be held at the Oct. 25 Naperville North-Naperville Central game at North Central.

McBride recalled the 2012 death of Neuqua student Megan Miller to a heroin overdose as a "seminal moment" for the community's anti-drug approach. He talked of the importance of getting parents to talk about the issue in an informal setting and create a knowledge base.

"Oftentimes communities focus on the crisis at hand, that crisis goes away and there is a lull," McBride said. "What we're trying to do through a parent network is build something sustainable over a long period of time."

The initiative is one of three efforts being funded by the city's revamped social services grant to reach out to the community with heroin-prevention messages. Mayor George Pradel is expected to proclaim October ParentsMatterToo month in Naperville.

"Why do parents matter? They are the bridge between kids and the outside world," said city Councilman Bob Fieseler, a KidsMatter trustee. "We're hoping to engage the parents to make a positive difference."

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