HEFLIN — Debby Mathews held various pieces of colored fabric to the neck of Taija Cosby, 12, Wednesday morning at the Harold Jones Armory in Heflin.
Cosby flashed a smile as 17 other girls suggested what color looked the best with her appearance.
The occasion was a workshop to help the girls determine which clothing matches up best with their natural color. It was part of the annual week-long Be Extreme program, which teaches impressionable Cleburne County girls, ages 12-15, lessons in navigating life’s challenges.
Mathews, the Be Extreme coordinator, said this year’s program for the girls has been going very smoothly.
“This year’s group is more oriented toward leadership development. We have higher expectations for this group than ever before,” Mathews said.
“Be Extreme is a leadership development program through 4-H and it helps women to be extreme inside and out, so we are equipping them with skills to help them make good decisions so they can have healthy bodies and healthy relationships,” said Mathews.
Mathews said the girls have learned a multitude of skills and lessons including:
— Team building
— Health tips
— Clothing tips
— Cosmetology at Gadsden State
— Social media and the law
— Art therapy
— Drug prevention
— General behavior guidelines
— Table manners
The girls will have their hair styled today at Gadsden State and go shopping for outfits in Heflin for their “grand reveal” Friday night at the armory, according to Mathews.
Social worker Chloe Butler spoke to the kids about the dangers of drugs and the new types of drugs which have appeared and gained notoriety. Butler works at The Bridge in Gadsden, an addiction treatment facility, and is contracted with the juvenile court system in Randolph County.
“I’m hoping that I can fill them in on some of the latest drug trends. What we’re seeing in the age group now, I’m hoping I can steer them in a better direction,” Butler said.
Butler told the group of a new drug called “lean,” which is a dangerous mix of cough syrup, alcohol, painkillers and Xanax.
“It’s very dangerous,” Butler said. “They make it sound really fun, it’s a risk.”
Butler said that juveniles are first trying drugs at ages 10-12 and the most popular choices are alcohol and marijuana.
Vaping or E-cigarettes with THC, the narcotic ingredient in marijuana, is also a growing problem, Butler said. Recently a social media hashtag, #vapeinschool, has appeared, encouraging students to post photos of themselves vaping in school.
Butler singled out marijuana as the number one most abused illegal substance in the U.S.
“It’s still illegal federally, there are people that will argue, tell you that it is legal in Colorado and legal in some other states,” Butler said. “If you smoke marijuana regularly as an adolescent it can actually change the structure of your brain and that can not be fixed.”
Butler said that although people say hippies did it in the 1960s and ’70s and they’re all alive and well, “there is a huge difference between the marijuana they smoked back in the sixties and the marijuana that we see now.”
Butler said that back in the ’60s, the THC content about three percent, and now it’s 30-40 percent which causes many more negative side effects.
Butler said marijuana depresses the immune system, requires more to be used as tolerance levels grow and leads to an increase of mental illness, including schizophrenia, psychosis, depression, anxiety. Chronic users suffer from an eight point drop in their IQ, she said.
“You are literally making yourself dumber by smoking regularly,” said Butler.
Butler showed a slide with a brain scan of a schizophrenic brain and a brain of a person who smokes marijuana in excess showed similarities.
“That’s why some people with extreme marijuana use issues and other drug issues can basically give themselves schizophrenia,” Butler said.
After Butler’s presentation Brianna Thompson, 12, said, “I thought it was cool to learn, I know not to do it ever.”
The group then left the armory and went to Flora’s Table, a popular Heflin restaurant, to practice table etiquette.
Mathews said later that some of the youth needed to work on their cutting skills and some were “not used to using a fork.”
Mathews said that sponsors including Southwire, Metro Bank, Macedonia Baptist Church, a host of volunteers and partnerships with Gadsden State, Jacksonville State University and Auburn make the Be Extreme program a success.