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January 31, 2014
Speakers for Hope
By Kevin Devlin


After listening to the two guest speakers, the kids, along Steve Sweeney, Sean Monahan and Bobby McGarrell getting ready for pizza and the half court shootout.

The speakers, Kerry B and Travis B told their personal stories of substance abuse. Both speakers grew up in the Greater Boston area. They came from good, caring families. They attended good schools and were involved in sports. But not being able to “Say No” and yielding blindly to “Peer Pressure” their lives were dramatically altered. Drinking and drugging replaced school and sports. It overtook their lives.

Travis B spoke about his rise and fall, and then his rise again, as he battled his demons and fought to take control of his life. He started smoking marijuana and drinking in high school. His grades plummeted and when he experienced his first setback-being cut from the varsity hockey team-he took the easy way out and quit sports altogether. His dreams of college literally went up in smoke so he joined the Navy. But the Navy wasn’t the answer to his personal problems. 

“All I looked forward to when we hit a foreign port was sitting at a bar was drinking,” he said. “I travelled around the world but can’t remember much.” When his naval stint was over, he returned home. He worked construction and said he drank every night.

Before long he was sniffing cocaine and then graduated to heroin. Living with his girlfriend and young son, he was leading a secret life of alcohol and drug addiction. It finally caught up to him. Needing a fix, he started committing crimes until he hit the big time and was imprisoned for robbing a bank. His memories of his son growing up were via Polaroid snapshots.  

He regretted being selfish and knew deep down inside he was a good guy. He admitted his behavior had produced “…A deep hole in (his) soul.” He realized if he didn’t change he’d be back in prison. 
 
“I knew I had to start over and set attainable goals,” Travis B said. “The peer pressure was too much, it’s all around us. I had low self-esteem and wanted to be accepted. Then I discovered you can control your own life and can say no. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure any longer. 

The past is the past,” he concluded, “…And I like the person I am today.”  

Kerry B was the second speaker. Starting in the seventh grade, she starting hanging out with kids she didn’t have anything in common with. Like Travis, she also wanted to be accepted and before long was smoking “weed” and drinking. Like her counterpart, she was leading two lives. She attended Boston Latin and played sports. She was a star on the playing fields and a solid student. But as soon as she untied her laces she was getting high and drinking. Soon, her grades suffered and she lost interest in sports. Dating a local drug-dealer, she started popping pills and then shooting heroin.
   
“Drugs and alcohol took over my life,” she said. “They overtook my body. I went full cycle. But now I know that it’s okay to say no. We are here to tell you that and to tell you to stick to your goals and hang around with positive people.”
   
Both speakers have been clean for some time now and hope their vital messages gets through to their audiences. Gate of Heaven CYO league commissioner Sean Monahan feels these are important stories for the kids to hear and dwell upon.
   
“This is the third year we’ve ran the Speakers for Hope Program,” said Monahan. “This program is run by the Gavin Foundation and sponsored by a grant from Proctor and Gamble. The goal is to give the kids the tools to handle peer pressure when their friends are doing the wrong things at this very vulnerable age. It teaches them to set positive, attainable goals and hang around with kids that are doing the right thing and build their own structure with family and friends.
   
“We think it helps hearing the stories from former addicts who came from good families,” he added. “They did well in school, played sports, and were on the right track only to have their worlds fall apart so quickly once drug addiction started controlling their lives. These young speakers were just like our kids not so long ago, so our kids can relate to them. We appreciate (them speaking)…and hope it gives our kids the information and tools to avoid getting involved in drugs and alcohol…”                                                                                                                                               
(Writer’s Note: There are two more sessions for boys and girls (seventh grade through highs school) the next two Fridays beginning at 6PM at the Walsh gym. Later in February, there will be a session for 5th and 6th graders.)      



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