The man behind 'Safe and Sober' and a new statewide push - Springfield News-Leader

April 9, 2013

Kurt Larson was 15 when he had his first drink. The older brother of friend bought a six-pack, and they went to a drive-in to watch a Steve Martin movie.

At the time Larson thought it was harmless rite of passage. Now he's an attorney representing the relatives of people killed or injured in alcohol-related crashes and has a different perspective.

"It's not harmless at all," he said.

Larson has been taking that message to area high schools for the past nine years with a program called Safe and Sober. The Missouri Department of Transportation recently gave the effort $130,000 to help the program spread statewide.

"This program has the potential to go from good to great," Larson said.

Safe and Sober, a nonprofit that's part of Mercy Health Foundation Springfield, encourages students to sign cards pledging not to consume alcohol or drugs. Parents are also encouraged to sign the cards and speak with their children about making healthy choices. Schools can compare their rates of signing pledge cards on the web site at www.missourisafeandsober.com.

Some schools opt to hold school assemblies and show videos about the consequences of drinking and driving.

Mark Peck, the injury prevention outreach coordinator at Mercy Hospital Springfield, said the trauma center at the hospital sees the consequences of alcohol-related crashes every day.

"So many of these terrible injuries and deaths can be prevented, and that's our goal," Peck said.

Larson started the program nine years ago when his children, Thomas and Lindsey, were teens at Glendale High School. It started in the five Springfield high schools.

The program has also spread to some middle schools where high school students tell younger students it's OK not to drink.

Larson said the average age that a Missouri resident first takes a drink is 12. One in five alcoholics is between ages 13 to 17.

Lindsey Swartz, a special education teacher at Glendale, said Safe and Sober has become a student-led, school-wide effort.

"It's really forced students to think about their decisions and the consequences of decisions they make," Swartz said.

 

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.  Written by Sarah Okeson (SOKESON@NEWS-LEADER.COM) on Jan 10,2013.

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