Sixteen students from Tigard and Tualatin high schools traveled to the Washington, D.C., area last month for a national conference and meetings with members of Congress.
The students — five from Tigard, accompanied by two adults, and 11 from Tualatin, with four adults — are members of clubs formed to encourage drug- and alcohol-free lifestyles. Those clubs are Stop Tigard Underage Drinking and Drug Use (STUDD) and Tualatin Together.
The STUDD club is the youth wing of Tigard Turns the Tide, a community coalition formed in the 1980s to address the issue of underage drinking and drug use. StandUp Tualatin also has a community group as its parent organization, Tualatin Together. The community groups raised money to make it possible for students to attend the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) National Leadership Forum.
StandUp Tualatin, with the support of its parent group Tualatin Together, sent a larger delegation to the nation's capital this year than it did in its inaugural trip to the CADCA forum last February, and the group stayed for longer.
Cyndy Hillier, Tualatin Together's executive director and the mother of StandUp Tualatin's club president, Ella Hillier, said it is "a big deal" for students to be able to go to Washington, D.C., and speak with their congressional representatives.
"It's appealing, and frankly, it helps us get kids to join the club," Cyndy Hillier said. "And next year, we hope to take just as many, if not more. We're excited about building the group."
Marie Watkins, director of Tigard Turns the Tide, said the first day was dedicated to absorbing that historic city — including visits to the Holocaust Museum, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and more. On Monday, students attended the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration's 13th-annual Prevention Day. Speakers included Kana Enomoto, acting assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse.
Hillier said students met with Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, all Oregon Democrats. They also toured the U.S. Capitol complex as guests of Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican who represents eastern and southern Oregon, although they did not meet with him on the trip.
"Students were able to express their gratitude again for (the lawmakers') support, and were able to briefly share some successes of community efforts," Watkins said.
Students also spent a few days of the trip, which lasted from Feb. 4 to Feb. 10, at the CADCA conference in nearby National Harbor, Md.
They also went to an event called "Prevention Day" on Feb. 6, convened by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which it skipped last year. But Hillier and other adults reporting back on the trip at a Tualatin Together meeting last week indicated it was somewhat disappointing, as it was geared more toward adults than youth.
"We can have adults go to that, but that is absolutely not a youth-friendly event. … As you know, our kids are like — they want to dig in," Hillier said. "They want to learn, they want to make a difference."
Chet Lemon, a Tualatin police officer who works as a school resource officer and also was part of the group that visited Washington, D.C., said he didn't think the CADCA conference itself was as good as it was in 2016. Tualatin Together members surmised that the drop in quality may have been due to the presidential transition, which typically creates uncertainty for department heads throughout the federal government as the new president determines who he wants to keep in place and what policies he wants to set.
Despite that, Hillier described the trip experience as "still 95 percent positive" and said Tualatin Together is looking forward to fundraising for another group to go to the conference next year.
Last year, six students and four adults from Tualatin attended the conference. Tigard did not send a group.
The training from workshops and breakout sessions at the forum allows participants to "learn from other communities what messaging is working and how to move forward," Watkins said before the trip.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times