The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Operation Snowball, Inc.

Today’s blog post is neither about substituting nor teaching. Not really, at least. It is about one of my greatest hobbies: drug prevention. This was originally written for the blog which my wife and I share, but I felt that it would be appropriate to share here. And, since it is my blog, I get to make the rules. Much as, when teaching in a classroom, there comes a point when, as the teacher, I get to make the rules (at least for that day).

I am a long-time supporter of drug prevention programs that focus on teen leadership training and empowerment. Most notably, I am a volunteer drug prevention specialist through Operation Snowball, Inc. and the Illinois Teen Institute.

I got involved with these programs in 1996, when I attended a Snowflake event at Washington Community High School. Snowflake is a prevention program aimed at middle school/junior high students. I attended my first Snowflake as a 7th grader, through the influence of two of my older brothers, Anton and Adam, who were both involved in the high school’s Operation Snowball chapter. I remember being bewildered at first, but quickly coming to enjoy the atmosphere. I could not tell you a single thing we were taught during that evening event, but I can tell you that I was there with my best friend, Carl, and we met a girl there named Colleen. When we got to high school, we became friends with Colleen (or Co, as we came to know her), and she and Carl eventually dated and, a couple of years ago, through a long, twisting road, got married. I don’t actually remember meeting Co at Snowflake, but she remembers meeting me and, more importantly, she remembers meeting Carl. Pretty awesome, huh? Not that that has anything to do with today’s story, per se, but still, I had to get that out there.

When I got to high school, I joined the Operation Snowball chapter and attended the weekend lock-in held in January 1998. I still have the orange t-shirt with a Superman-esque drawing on the back that bears the motto “Take A Stand”. I went back in 1999 as a teen staff member, and kept the green shirt that has a cup of tea with slogan “Got tea?” to go with the theme of “Time Of Your Life”. In 2000, I came for the “Lean On Me” year: baby blue t-shirt with a giant snowball with a boy and girl each leaning on one side. 2001 was my senior year of high school, and my last year on the teen staff: a navy blue shirt with silver letters that bore the simple theme: “All Star”.

After graduating, I was certain that I would be coming back to Snowball as an adult staff member, even though I wasn’t sure what that would entail. It was awesome. I still got to work with a small group, I worked with the teens, and I continued to not only gain knowledge about drug prevention, I was able to share what I had learned over the many years. The theme was “True Colors” and the shirts were red with a painter’s palette. I decided very early on that I wanted to be truly dedicated to Operation Snowball, and that I would continue to participate with this amazing program. I saw how it had changed my life, how it had changed the lives of my friends, and I wanted to stay a part of it. However, I took two years off to serve a full-time mission for my church, so I missed 2003 and 2004.

So in 2005 I returned, and continued to help out. Our shirts were black t-shirt with a yellow guitar logo on the front and a multi-coloured drum set on the back to match the theme: “Rock Your World”. (In addition to being my return to Snowball, it marked the first year I had been there since ’99 in which the theme was not a song title.) 2006 was a ridiculously bright pink shirt for the theme “Saved By The Ball”, which mimicked the logo for the TV series after which the theme was inspired. The back features neon green text that lists the teen staff as part of the “Bayside High Faculty” (something that didn’t make sense to me then, and doesn’t make sense to me now). The theme for 2007 was “Point of Impact” and was presented on grey t-shirts with the theme printed on the back over a series of four white circles that start small and grow larger as they form an arc.

2008 became a very important year for me and Gretchen. This was the 10th anniversary of my first Snowball, and it was Gretchen’s first Snowball ever. We had started dating the previous August and, having recently gotten engaged, I asked Gretch to come with me. She came, but did not get a t-shirt for reasons that were not quite explained. Because she had never been before, she attended as one of two adult participants that year. The other AP was a lovely young woman named Sarah, who is now married to Lucas Doremus, who I also met through Snowball. She came at Lucas’ behest when they were dating. The shirts for the staff were black, and had the theme “One Life To Live” printed in red and white (participants were given red shirts, with the theme printed in white and black).

In the year 2009, Gretch and I both attended at adult staff members, and we both got the white t-shirts with the motto “If Every ONE Cared” printed on the front. This was the first shirt to feature a quote on the back: “And as we lie beneath the stars, We realize who we are. If they could love like you and me, Imagine what the world could be.” Nickelback, “If Everyone Cared”. My baby sister, Ariana, was eligible to attend this year as a freshman, but since none of her friends wanted to go, she decided not to go, either. I think she also had something else happening that weekend.

2010 brings us up-to-date with the Washington Community High School Operation Snowball weekends. Gretch and I were proudly there for the weekend, cheerfully wearing our black staff t-shirts with the theme “Click: Take Control” on the front and a quote from John F. Kennedy on the back: “Change is the law of the life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Ariana came this year, and received an orange shirt with the same theme and logo. It was awesome having three members of the Valencic family present, along with Cornelius (my yellow teddy bear who has accompanied me to every single Snowball and Teen Institute, as well as my mission in California and my semester in Australia) and Hippo, the stuffed hippo that Ariana gave Gretch for Christmas the year we got married.

Up until this point, every Snowball weekend I have attended has been at Washington Community High School. I tried to get involved with the Champaign County Operation Snowball a few years ago, but it didn’t work out. And for years, I have been trying to convince my friend Rob Grupe, who I met at the Illinois Teen Institute, to let me come to the Effingham County Operation Snowball weekend, which is directs. After 11 Snowballs in 13 (school) years, I finally got my wish. Gretch and I were invited to attend the 30th Effingham County Operation Snowball weekend at Camp Walter Scott in Dieterich, Illinois, this weekend. The theme was “Believe In Yourself” and featured a man juggling several balls. The shirts were a bright blue with white and neon green letters that matched the colour scheme of the ITI 2010 shirts.

We had an awesome time! The teens in Effingham County are amazing young men and women, and I was inspired by their dedication to leading the peers in making positive decisions. They are also fun, funny, and intelligent, and they are deeply devoted to their cause. Their adult leaders were equally amazing, and they all welcomed us into their family with open arms. We have invited them to attend Washington’s Snowball weekend in January, and have already had three teens and two adults ask about coming. And so the movement continues to grow, just as a bit of snow, rolling down a hill, gathers speed and momentum as is, well, snowballs.


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