Former NBA player Chris Herren appeared as part of the district’s ‘Defy the Issue’ program last week.
In 2010, the Lenape Regional High School District (LRHSD) launched its “Defy the Issue” campaign to spread awareness of the dangers of substance use. This month, as part of Defy the Issue, former NBA player, national motivational speaker, author and sobriety expert Chris Herren returned to LRHSD to share his harrowing story of drug use and recovery with parents, guardians, and students.
LRHSD Superintendent Carol Birnbohm welcomed guests to Herren’s evening presentation, which focused on helping parents, guardians and family members understand the true dangers of the disease of addiction. Birnbohm expressed the pride and admiration she has for the loyalty of the LRHSD community.
“Every school has a unique personality, but one thing that we know is true about all of our schools is that every school has a deep sense of pride and a strong sense of community,” Birnbohm said. “I’m talking about the community within our school buildings, which gives students the feeling that they are part of the family when they walk through the doors. And I’m talking about the communities that surround each of our buildings, community members who let our students know that someone cares about them, which is why we are here this evening, we all care about our community.”
Herren spoke at LRHSD school assemblies for ninth through 12th grade students at Lenape, Shawnee, Cherokee and Seneca High Schools throughout the week of Oct. 16 through Oct.20. A special presentation was also held after school hours for parents and guardians on Oct. 19, which also included a Substance Awareness Expo. The expo enabled parents and guardians to participate in the “Hidden in Plain Sight” exhibit. The exhibit asked participants to search for staged drugs and drug paraphernalia that had been hidden around a teenager’s bedroom. The exhibit was provided by City of Angels.
In the evening presentation following the expo, Herren shared his story in what district officials described as a “brutally honest” format. The evening began with a five-minute video that introduced Herren and how his dream to play in the NBA began to unravel when he made a “few bad decisions.” Herren spoke of gateway drugs, prescription drug use, drinking and driving, as well as self-harm, all of which led to his frightening fight against the illness of addiction.
“My talk tonight is filled with urgency because the audience is community-based. No one wants to pay attention to this illness until it comes knocking on their door. It is time for people to treat this illness, have respect for it, and talk about it,” Herren said.
Herren believes that self-esteem and self-worth are two critical traits a child must have in order to hold substance abuse at bay. Parents and guardians are responsible for instilling these traits within their teenagers, especially during the years spent in high school. Herren emphasized how difficult of a time high school can be for teenagers, and that sometimes parents make it harder.
“I think parents have forgotten how hard high school really is. When kids hear that it is supposed to be ‘the best four years of their lives’ from their parents, they feel pressure to live up to that, in addition to the pressure they feel to succeed in their academics and athletics. Our kids have teachers and coaches, but on the weekends they just need their parents,” Herren said.
According to the district, Herren is devoted and determined not only to change the substance use statistics in this country, but also to change the stigma surrounding the disease of addiction. Herren established a non-profit foundation in 2011 called The Herren Project (THP), which assists individuals and families struggling with addiction. One of its initiatives is THP Project Purple. Leading up to his visit, all four schools were decorated in purple in recognition of THP Project Purple, including t-shirts, flags, on the football fields, and on electronic message boards.
LRHSD thanks the following sponsors for helping make Herren’s visit possible by donating a total amount of $37,500 towards the Chris Herren Presentations and Substance Abuse Prevention Activities and Programs: The Lenape Regional Education Foundation, Bradley Funeral Home, Bradley and Stow Funeral Home, Burns-Kull Automotive Group, Comegno Law Group P.C., Dr. Robert Bende, GST Transport, Holman Enterprises, Medford Cemetery Association, Medford Lakes Lion Club, Medford Lodge Odd Fellows, Medford Township Police Dept., Medford Vincentown Rotary Club, Murphy’s of Medford, Radwell International, Red Lion Diner, TD Bank, The Design Collaborative, and various LRHSD Student & Parent Groups.