Project SAM celebrates one year of meth education

An 11-year-old's simple statement represents the effect Project SAM has had on more than 100 children across the Upper Cumberland this year.

"I feel mad because people know not to do meth, and I feel sad because people die from meth," she said.

Project SAM, or Project Students Against Meth, recently celebrated the successes of its first year after being funded by a Meth Free Tennessee Youth Edition grant from Volunteer Tennessee. The Upper Cumberland Child Care Resource and Referral Center, housed within Tennessee Tech University's School of Human Ecology, directs the efforts to engage children in after-school community-based programs in meth awareness and prevention through service learning.

"Not only did more than 100 children learn about the dangers of meth abuse, they created their own ways of telling what they have learned to their peers and others in the community," said Betty Vaudt, program manager.

After-school participants completed a variety of projects under the guidance of staff members trained by TTU faculty and staff.

Children from Busy Kids Learning Center in Woodbury made a children's book about the dangers of meth and distributed them to local libraries and medical waiting rooms. Children from Rainbow Playschool in Smithville created and placed posters all over town to tell others of the dangers of meth. Parents and children from a sister school were treated to a musical, "Forever Free," performed by children at Creative Learning in Cookeville.

"Through Project SAM, we've served children by teaching them about the dangers of drug abuse, the value of teamwork, how to value each other and resolve conflicts peacefully, and how to solve problems," said Leslie Hamlett, resource and referral specialist and school-age child care consultant.

"We've also served the child care centers by giving them key training and support, providing team-building and project materials, and leaving them with knowledge they can use to continue to teach children effectively," she added.

Part of the philosophy behind Project SAM is that teaching children to aspire to serve and value others is a key part of building their self-esteem, which in turn helps them deal with the temptation of using drugs.

During the year, children also engaged in service-learning projects in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. These projects included creating a cookbook, making safe-cooking baskets and creating a safe-cooking class for seniors at a retirement center.

Other projects included planting flowers at a retirement center and playing games with residents, plus making an "I Have a Dream" quilt that was displayed around the community.

"We are instilling values and messages that will serve these children well as they grow up and influence their peers and their community," said Vaudt.