Ivi McDaniel and TeeJay Wilson, co-founders of We Win Project Drug Prevention and Awareness Program, are looking forward to getting back into schools this upcoming year.
Their program presents the realities of drug abuse to elementary, middle and high schools. According to McDaniel, It differs from DARE and other programs because they attempt to make the negative reality of drugs personal to the kids.
We Win has been periodically educating kids in St. Clair since 2017. They also work in partnership with Red Ribbon Week and visit schools when administrators begin to have concerns about the behavior of their student bodies.
“Students need to know the consequences and how drug use starts. They need to know what to look for,” said McDaniel. “We tell the real truth, we don’t sugar coat it, everybody gets the same thing and what it looks like.”
According to the duo, a lot of the messages are based on building self worth, and trying to teach students that people who offer them drugs don’t love or respect them. This part of the program is called “I am more than enough.”
“Kids are more visual creatures, don’t tell me about it show me,” said Wilson. “We gotta show them and paint a picture so vivid for them to understand to get to them.”
Wilson said it’s impossible to look at a classroom of students and determine who will be the drug addict, they’re trying to help kids understand the problem before they have the chance to start.
“When you ask a kid what they want to be, they never say “drug addict,” said McDaniel.
“I have 70 men, none of those guys in school said they wanted to be in rehab,” said Wilson.
Parents have approached them, nervous about their young kids learning about drug use from the program, but the two put emphasis on beating mass media to giving messages to kids about drugs.
McDaniel said music, video games and social media are already telling kids that drugs are good and the subject is romanticized.
“Somebody is already having this conversation with their kids,” said McDaniel.
Wilson said even after fighting the desensitization of drugs in mass media, some kids are seeing it in their own home from their family members.
He shared that they’ve spoken with a girl as young as 16 who struggled with addiction to meth and heroin.
“She’s clean now, it’s amazing to watch how far God has brought her. She definitely inspires me,” said Wilson.
Wilson has dedicated his life to helping others in need of rehabilitation. He spent the first part of his adulthood in and out of incarceration until the age of 35. He began using drugs at the age of 10. By 17 he was a full-blown addict and his post-high school plans to play college basketball were ruined by his struggle with drug use.
Now, he is the author of his own book about beating addiction and getting himself away from incarceration. He established Fresh Start Ministries, which specializes in rehabilitating men struggling with addiction.
The two teamed up at Fresh Start Ministries in 2016. McDaniel is a drug counselor there. She is a certified substance abuse counselor, and has been working in the field of drug addiction since 2012. She also is the Pell City District 2 city council member.
“I love helping people who have substance abuse issues. I love helping their families. I always wondered what we could do to stop the flow down the river,” said McDaniel
“I’m experience where she’s professional,” said Wilson. “She has all the credentials that I don’t have, she knows all the stuff I have no clue about. When it came to teaming up It worked perfect because of how the things that I needed to know, she already knew.”
They both believe now is the time to get back into schools while COVID-19 is overshadowing the opioid epidemic within the CDC.
“Before there was a pandemic, there was an opioid epidemic,” said Wilson. “The mental health crisis that we’re in, people have to have a way to escape.”
For a long time when they went into schools and asked the kids why people do drugs, the answer was always “to have fun.” One day the message began to shift, and their responses started to become “to get rid of the pain.”
“How do they know this?” asked McDaniel.
Wilson worries because at a young age, it is exactly why he started and continued abusing drugs for years. He knows from experience that drug addiction can have two forms. One is a drug making you feel exactly how you’d like, and the second is when you realize you can’t stop even if you wanted to.
“I wanted to escape the pain, I didn’t want to feel what I felt or be who I was,” said Wilson.
“Addiction has no respective person, you don’t get to decide who becomes the addict or not, it doesn’t matter what side of the tracks you come from, any of us can be addicts,” said McDaniel. “The only people who don’t have the potential of never becoming an addict are the people who never use.”