Christian organisation Teen Challenge is offering secular, wellbeing programs in Tasmanian state schools and its founder says they are steering kids away from the path of drugs.
In this last year I've been thinking about what you said and I actually now agree. I've seen it in my mates and myself. I'm now two months clean from weed addiction.High school student, Launceston
Teen Challenge Tasmania, which belongs to a global Christian organisation, plans to open a faith-based drug rehabilitation centre in the Meander Valley, pending on the outcome of current court proceedings.
In the meantime, its founding directors Tanya Cavanagh and husband Peter Ferrall, and other directors including Launceston mayor Albert van Zetten and Australian Christian Lobby manager Mark Brown have been focusing on drug prevention and intervention in Tasmanian schools.
They have also opened up Hope Thrift in Launceston, a charity store that is raising funds to offer the programs in schools which cannot afford it.
Mrs Cavanagh said she and husband Peter saw the devastating impact that drugs were having across the state in 2014.
"We would love for there not to be a need for a rehab centre ...that is why we have our prevention programs ... We believe in young people. Our whole future of our country depends on these kids and they deserve our time and help."
The Not Even Once program has been offered in 25 Tasmanian high schools since 2015.
Mrs Cavanagh said it is separated into age-appropriate seminars that educate students about what drugs are and what impact they have on human brains and bodies.
They also look at the four stages of drug or alcohol addiction, as well as the reasons why people may use drugs.
She said the ultimate aim is to build resilience in young people, to offer them strategies of how to cope when life gets hard.
"Our young people need to be aware of what is happening around them so that when they are offered something - because unfortunately, the reality is that it is a matter of when - then they have solid foundations to protect themselves.
"Sometimes life throws up some really hard challenges... we are teaching them that there are better ways to deal with life's challenges than masking them with drugs."
Mrs Cavanagh said feedback from students and schools indicated that the program was leading to a positive shift away from drugs.
Analysis from 2016 showed that 24 per cent of students who said they were likely to drink alcohol before the seminar said they would abstain from doing so after attending the seminars.
When it came to illicit drugs, it was a 48 per cent shift away.
Mrs Cavanagh provided an example of a student who talked to her about his past addiction to cannabis.
"He said 'last year when you came here I thought you were full of [crap]. In this last year I've been thinking about what you said and I actually now agree. I've seen it in my mates and myself, and now I'm two months clean from weed addiction'."
The Teen Challenge 'Our Connections' mentoring program is also offered in several primary and high schools in Launceston.
Trained mentor volunteers spend an hour a week with a young person who is known to be struggling.
"Just having someone positive show up every week, investing in them and helping them to goal set, and build a relationship, really turns their worlds around.
"We have one young person who was in the program for three years who was bullied really badly. For obvious reasons, he didn't want to be at school but he eventually graduated from year 10, went to Tafe and is now in an internship."
Launceston mother Melinda Coulson said her daughter Samantha, would likely not have passed grade 10 if it was not for her mentor Mrs Cavanagh.
"She was behind in her school work and Tanya would do one on one tutoring with her, just to give that extra support and be that friend who my daughter could talk to," she said.
"When Samantha was having trouble with bullying Tanya was always there for her ... She was lacking in confidence but now she has it."
Mrs Cavanagh stressed that while Teen Challenge is a Christian organisation, its school programs were secular unless requested.
She said the Not Even Once programs are now also being offered in New South Wales and Victorian schools.