RCYSUC wants to empower Richland County youth, families and the community to reduce youth substance use through education, intervention, and participation. This is part 2 of a 7 part sponsored series around preventing substance misuse.
Julia Long has ambition. She dreams of renovating old Victorian homes across the United States and eventually different countries. When the time comes, she’ll settle down on a ranch in big sky country with her best friend. She’s an equestrian, so naturally, they’ll have four horses. Chickens and cows will join them, but pheasants are not welcome at their ranch. But the bustling streets and subways of New York also call her name. Maybe even a business degree from NYU.
There’s no doubt she’s capable of all of these things, and based on the work she’s accomplishing at 16 years old with the Richland County Youth Substance Use Coalition (RCYSUC), she’s opening even more pathways for herself. She found out about the coalition while searching for extracurricular activities to participate in. So, she went to Richland Public Health and talked to Gurpinder Deol, the Project Coordinator and Health Educator. After interviewing with Deol and Crystal Davis Weese, Coalition Chair, she decided to join.
“They are very nice people. What we try to do is spread the word to kids my age about the importance of not doing drugs because it can alter your brain chemistry. It makes me upset because I don’t like seeing people go through that,” Long said.
Long understands the effects of drug addiction, as she witnessed it first hand. A close family friend struggled through substance use, eventually unable to visit Long. Soon to be married and two years sober now, Long realized if he could pull through and start his sobriety journey, anyone can.
“I have some family members and friends that struggle with addiction and that’s part of the reason I wanted to join. I wanted to get a voice out there, maybe someone my age would rather listen to me instead of somebody older. I know how it is, as a kid you don’t always want to listen to someone older,” Long said.
In October, Long participated in the Project Sticker Shock Campaign in which she and other members of the coalition traveled to two different 7-Eleven’s to mark alcoholic beverages with stickers that encouraged those buying to prevent underage drinking.
At school, she helped organize Red Ribbon Week, where students came to sign a pledge to themselves that they would remain drug free, and cheerleaders have thrown out t-shirts at football games. She says some of her peers are shocked when she shares that she doesn’t drink or do any drugs.
When they ask why, her answer is simple.
“Because I’m just not gonna do that.”
In the future, Long can see herself incorporating what she’s learned through the coalition into her life, like helping those with mental illness and drug addiction. She’s even considered having or working in a homeless shelter.
“I want to do something with it when I’m older, I’m not quite sure exactly what yet, but I know I want to help people,” Long said.
Deol and others in the coalition feel lucky to work alongside young people like Long.
“Working with Julia has been an amazing experience. It is comforting knowing that Richland County youth like her have great ambitions and a willingness to help people at such a young age. I look forward to all that she will accomplish and know there are countless others like her looking for opportunities to have their voices heard,” Deol said.
The Richland County Youth Substance Use Coalition needs more people like Julia Long on their team to encourage the youth of the community to stay healthy, safe and to encourage one another. To learn more about their mission and organization, visit their website.
“Be kind to everybody, no matter what they’re going through. Even if you’re having a bad day, don’t put your bad energy on other people,” Long said.
Article available on Richland Source