By Margery Gianopoulos, Courier & Press, April 21, 2015 – Is your college student thinking about studying abroad? My daughter left in January to study in Greece for the spring semester. From the very beginning her dad and I were very supportive. We knew what a great experience it would be and loved the idea that she would be in Greece where we still have family and her grandparents were born.

However, as the time got closer for her to leave, our fears kicked in. Would she be able to figure out how to get places? How would she do with the language? Would she make good choices? And most importantly — would she be safe?

As our daughter’s departure came closer, I found I was constantly talking to her about safety. With recent acts of terrorism taking place around the world, having our daughter that far away was frightening. Just as the movie “Jaws” made us leery of swimming in the ocean, the movie “Taken,” starring Liam Neeson, has heightened our concerns for students studying abroad.

Letting your children go and do things on their own is one of the healthiest things a parent can do. Whether it’s going down the slide at the playground when they are 3 or flying across the ocean to study as a young adult, trusting that it will be OK is incredibly important for both the parent and child.

Our daughter has grown so much in just the two short months she’s been gone. She has had experiences that will stay with her forever, and studying abroad has amazing benefits.

The Institute for the International Education of Students surveyed alumni from all of their study abroad programs from 1950-1999. No matter where the students went to study or the length of the program, the data shows that studying abroad is usually a defining moment in a young person’s life and continues to impact their life for years after the experience.

I feel I have grown as a parent, too. I still have concerns about her safety, but she has proved she makes good choices. Trusting that she can take care of herself is very rewarding. I am letting go of control, and that’s not easy, but I’m proud of myself for doing it. It helps that we text almost daily through Viber and connect on Facebook. Seeing her pictures makes me wish I was there to experience these things with her.

If you have a child who is interested in studying abroad, encourage them to do so. Here are some tips that might make letting go easier:

Keep in mind that violent crime is rare and the majority of study-abroad programs are incident free.

Have a communication plan. How often will you hear from them? Can you Skype or video-chat? Set a time each week when you will connect.

Ask your child to let you know their itinerary when they travel to other countries. Know who are they traveling with, and get the name and contact information of roommates and others in their program.

The advantages of our daughter studying abroad have definitely outweighed our fears. We are certainly anxious to see her again, hear her stories, and see the changes this experience has made in her.


Don Mattingly Award nomineesDon Mattingly Award winners and finalists were announced at our Passport to Adventure Auction at St. Mary’s Manor on April 9, 2015.  Congratulations to these outstanding young people, who have exhibited the character traits Don Mattingly possesses.

  • Strong Work Ethic
  • Commitment to Self-Improvement
  • Ability to Overcome Adversity
  • Positive, Winning Attitude
  • Commitment to Help Others Succeed in Life

Award Winners:

Nancy Chavarria (High School winner)
Tory Thompson (Middle School winner)


Lindsey Alvey
Cooper Fleck
Rosalyn Fulkerson
Drew Fonner
Angel Hite
Haley Holman
Shelby Howard
Kaleb Krohn
Blake Palmer
Shelby Phelps
Morgan Richter
Adriana Vasquez
Toni Waddell


April 1, 2015 – Youth First, Inc. Releases Results of 2014 Southwest Indiana Youth Survey – The Southwest Indiana region appears to be making progress in preventing and reducing teen substance abuse, according to a report released today by Youth First, Inc. The latest Southwest Indiana Youth Survey shows teenagers are reporting lower substance abuse rates than the state and national averages in many categories.

View Survey Report:   Southwest Indiana Youth Survey Report 2014

“When Youth First started tracking similar data back in 1999, our region’s substance abuse rates were typically higher than the state and national averages, but parallel with the growth of Youth First’s prevention model over the last decade, we have seen declines,” said Parri O. Black, President & CEO of Youth First. “Fewer teens reported regularly using alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana in 2014 than teens in the last regional survey in 2009.”

The 2014 survey includes anonymous responses from over 6,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the five counties where Youth First provides programs and services: Gibson, Pike, Posey, Vanderburgh, and Warrick.

In the spring of 2014, the Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) at Indiana University collected data from over 130,000 youth statewide. In the report shared by Youth First, the state and regional results were compared with national data from Monitoring the Future, which tracks youth substance abuse across the country.

Southwest Indiana’s 8th graders reported significantly lower monthly alcohol (9.7%), binge drinking (7.8%), and monthly marijuana use (5.6%) than the state. However, the region’s 12th graders reported significantly higher monthly alcohol use (37.9%) and binge drinking rates (35.8%).

“Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are serious threats to the health, safety, and futures of our youth, families, and communities,” Black said. “Drugs and alcohol are the leading causes of crime among youth and major risk factors for teenage suicide and teenage pregnancy. Study after study shows students who are regular users are less likely to do well in school and less likely to graduate.”

For the first time, the Southwest Indiana Youth Survey also includes data about mental health concerns. Over 20% of the 6,000 students surveyed reported feeling sad or hopeless, which can be a risk factor for suicide. Over 15% of the 8th and 10th graders reported considering suicide.

“This is similar to or even lower than the state and national averages, but they are alarming statistics nonetheless,” Black said. “Clearly, we need to redouble our efforts to build hope and resiliency in our youth.”

Founded in Evansville, Indiana in 1998, Youth First, Inc. works to transform and strengthen the lives of young people and their families using a comprehensive model of prevention in partnership with communities, schools and other agencies. Most significantly, Youth First provides specially trained Master’s level social workers for 50 schools and hundreds of prevention programs for youth and families. Independent evaluations indicate that Youth First’s model is reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors linked to substance abuse and other high risk behaviors.

“Most of our youth are not regularly using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, but we still have plenty of work to do to help all young people reach their full potential,” Black said. “Our communities must be attentive, persistent, and collaborative over the long-haul, insisting on doing what really works to protect future generations from the ravages of substance abuse and other risky behaviors.”

by Amber Russell, Courier & Press, March 31, 2015 – Ridicule — the act of making fun of someone or something in a cruel or harsh way; harsh comments made by people who are laughing at someone or something.

We have all seen someone poke fun at others, and perhaps we’ve even done it ourselves. How often have you said something like, “Listen to the way he talks” or “She is weird”?

As a Youth First School social worker, too often I work with children who have been called names such as “stupid” or “retarded,” or I hear about someone being made fun of because of how they walk, talk or look. Many times the targets are people with disabilities. Young children are often curious and don’t understand people or things that are different from them.

March is Disability Awareness month, which makes it the perfect time to teach kids that people with disabilities are more like us than they are different from us. They have hopes, goals, hobbies, family and friends, fears and anxieties just like everyone else. Use this month to increase your knowledge on disabilities and share the information with your kids.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to get the conversation going:

1. Talk about the Universal Access Symbol and explain that while the symbol is a person in a wheelchair, it really is a symbol for accessibility for people with disabilities. Explain that having a disability does not mean those individuals can’t do things; they may just need accommodations such as a ramp, wheelchair, hearing aide, extra help in school, or a voice activated computer or phone. See how many different places in the community you can identify the symbol.

2. When kids ask questions, try to be positive. For example, stress that hearing aids help others hear and wheelchairs help others move around, instead of using negatives (he can’t hear, she can’t walk, etc.). Your child may see a child who acts out and ask, “Why does that kid always act like that?” This may be a good time to explain how difficult and frustrating it is for kids with autism or other disabilities to communicate. You might tell them that some kids act out or have outbursts because they can’t express what they are thinking and feeling.

3. Visit the book store or library and read books about disabilities with your child. I really like the Special Kids in School series by JayJo Books. They have titles such as “Taking Tourette Syndrome to School” and “Taking Down syndrome to School.” Just ask your local librarian or book store employee for more suggestions.

4. If your child is not into reading, try using the Internet. Use the web to find movies or TV shows that feature characters with a disability or portray what it’s like living with a disability. Research celebrities who are disabled. There are a lot of great websites out there with a vast amount of information. Two of my favorites are: and

Finally, remember that your child will model your behaviors. It is important that you model acceptance and inclusion through your own words and actions. Teaching them acceptance is essential for raising a sensitive and kind human being.