Local Youth Discover Passions and Hone Skills ~ The healthy alternative to drugs and alcohol

party_girls_drinking_jacrews7_flickr_comm_okThere is nothing new about the age-old problem of teens with too much time on their hands and the trouble that can then ensue.  As the saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  What is new is the horrible and significant proliferation of drug and alcohol use among adolescents in communities across the nation.  Alarm bells are going off as both small towns and large cities witness death after death of teens and young adults who have fallen prey to the lure of getting high, and the drugs—such as prescription pills, heroin, and spice–that ultimately killed them.

The Community Responds

Here in San Clemente, California a call to action by families and community leaders has culminated in the creation of Community Outreach Alliance (COA), a partnership among key figures in the local community who are committing time and resources to help battle the scourge of drug addiction.

For the underlying theme of this collaborative effort, COA believes that for kids who are kept busy with activities that not only distract them from the temptation of drug and alcohol use, but also lead them to discover their personal passions and skills, lives will not only be saved, but will flourish.

Light a Fire

Stoking passions, be they in art or music, developing a new skill, or discovering a new hobby, is very important during the developmental stage of adolescence.  Through the alliance with Talega Life Church (TLC), COA offers free acoustic guitar lessons, art lessons, yoga, dance and music events, community outreach events, and even a gaming club to inspire teens and engage their souls.

What teen or young adult wouldn’t benefit from participating in outdoor activities?  Studies have shown that physical activity may actually prevent substance abuse.  According to Nora D. Volkow, M.D, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Although people tend to think of exercise as good for the body, it also benefits the brain by stimulating the brain’s reward pathway which heightens mood-boosting neurochemicals.”  Because so much drug and alcohol use is associated as way to self-mediate an accompanying mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety, the fact that physical activities may help to elevate mood and relieve mild depression is what drives COA’s activity calendar.

The newest addition to their fitness activity calendar is a running club led by Chris Perez, a senior at JSerra Catholic High School.  According to Chris, “The benefits of running are vast and endless.  Stamina, skill, strength, speed and spirit – – but the greatest of these is spirit.  Whether you are new or experienced at this sport, you will enjoy the physical and mental boost that running provides.”  His group meets at local trails or the SCHS track and features fun-run events.

Remember how “laughter is the best medicine?”  Now COA is partnering with Jeannine Marquie, Director of the COA Improv & Comedy Club to provide comedy sports and improv techniques to teens and college students.  Ms. Marquie will partner with the youth alliance comedy duo, Daniel Klevit and Sophia Racke from the SCHS Improv Club to interject some humor and fun into the lives of the kids over the summer.

Who is the Community Outreach Alliance?

COA BoardOut of the recent tragedies of so many lost local teens and young adults to drugs, alcohol, and suicide, parents and activists stepped up and began organizing in 2013.  Pastor Pondo Vleisides was instrumental in kicking off the charge by hosting several gatherings at TLC for concerned community members to become informed and engaged, as well as organizing free activities for teens.

Momentum built, and the alliance now includes such prominent members as Dr. Bill Sears, MD/author, Brad Baker, PhD and Vice Principal at San Clemente High School, Mark McElroy, PhD and Head Football Coach at Saddleback College, Don Muir, DMD, Community Activist, Kristen Schultz, Nutrition and Wellness Instructor, Pondo Vleisides, Executive Director, COA and Founding Pastor, TLC, and Lauren Leland, founder Save SC, among many others.  In addition, COA partners with Jodi Barber and Christine Brant, Executive Producers of the Overtaken documentary series and founders of One Choice Can Destroy.

With such a heartfelt response by the San Clemente community and local businesses, this mission to redirect hulayouths to constructive, wholesome, and inspiring activities will indeed make a difference.  Once kids are engaged in these programs, you will never hear “There’s nothing to do” again.

COA is a 501c3 non-profit service that, in addition to the great activities, also offers various resources for teens in crisis. To become part of this phenomenal effort to change lives, you may donate to COA on their website or sign up to receive emails and volunteer opportunities.


Written by Eileen Spatz, San Clemente resident

Eileen Spatz raised her family in San Clemente.  Her son, Chris Spatz, who graduated from SCHS on 2006, suffered from depression in adulthood, which led to an alcohol addiction and, ultimately, suicide in October of 2013.  She has since joined in the efforts of COA in her quest to help other troubled teens and young adults before it is too late.