Mobile Memorial Remembers SCV Young People Who Died from Drugs, Offers Place for Survivors to Grieve and Share Their Stories
The Action Experience, an interactive mobile memorial to young Santa Clarita residents who died by drug overdose, is set to roll this fall to public events and high school assemblies around the Santa Clarita Valley on a drive to educate the living about the dangers of drug abuse.
Emblazoned with “The Experience” and the anti-drug-overdose mantra “Enough is Enough” graphics on its sides, the 32-foot converted RV will, when parked, also feature a large billboard-sized video display on its exterior.
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The big screen will show a short promotional message explaining what the Action Experience is all about, and a longer video telling the stories of Santa Clarita teens and young people who overdosed on drugs and died, and the lasting impact their deaths have had on their families and friends.
Inside the mobile memorial, three digital viewing stations will screen additional videos designed to share these tragic stories and educate others in more detail. The videos will include exclusive interviews with survivors willing to share their stories to help drive home to others the extreme heartbreak of losing a child, a brother, a sister, a best friend.
Drug Overdose Deaths a Family Experience
“Young people who die of drug overdoses are not the only victims — their families, friends and community are traumatized by their loved one’s death, and have to deal with that pain for the rest of their lives,” said Cary Quashen, Action Experience director and founder/CEO of the Santa Clarita-based Action Family Counseling drug and alcohol rehab centers.
“The survivors need support, a place to share their stories, a way to help educate and warn others of the dangers of drug abuse,” Quashen said. “Reaching young people and educating them before they become statistics, helping survivors share their message — that’s the mission of the Action Experience.”
RELATED: Read all the KHTS ‘It Takes a Village’ Features about Drugs in the SCV
Action’s nonprofit wing, the Action Family Foundation, is the major financial backer of the Action Experience, to the tune of about $40,000. Santa Clarita radio station AM 1220 KHTS is the primary media sponsor.
Other Santa Clarita community stakeholders aboard the Action Experience bus, so to speak, include the city of Santa Clarita and its Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, the William S. Hart Union High School District, the Santa Clarita Child & Family Center, the SCV Youth Project, and a coalition of families who have lost a child to a drug overdose.
Action Experience ‘a Memorial and a Deterrent’ to Would-be Drug Abusers
“The Experience is No. 1, a memorial so parents, friends and family can continue to grieve, and No. 2, it’s a deterrent to help people who are living realize the long-term impact drug abuse and drug overdoses have on loved ones,” said Carl Goldman, KHTS co-owner and Quashen’s primary Experience collaborator.
“The Experience will be another tool in our toolbox that we can use to educate people about the horrors of drug abuse,” Quashen said. “It’s going to be a moving memorial, in every sense.”
“We’re excited about it,” said Bob Wachsmuth of the SCV Sheriff Station’s Juvenile Intervention Team. “These efforts are all extremely positive to the community, because education and awareness are the things that are helping us.”
Action Experience — a Complete Interactive Multimedia Program on Wheels
The Action Experience was inspired by the city of Santa Clarita’s Youth Grove, a spot in Central Park in Saugus dedicated to local young people killed in traffic wrecks.
While the Youth Grove is a stationary memorial, Quashen and Goldman conceived the Action Experience as a mobile memorial that would have a greater, more frequent presence around Santa Clarita and could reach more people.
“We thought this could be really cool as a traveling entity, where we can also control the environment,” Goldman said. “And more importantly, because it’s digital, we can always change the video messages depending on who we’re getting in front of or what the venue is.”
“People can meet and talk with the families of addicts who died,” Quashen said. “They’ll be able to come inside the Experience and really get a feel for what drug abuse does, the pain and the horrors — not just for the abuser, but also for everyone around them.
“We have many families that have already told their stories [in video interviews], and some of them will sit inside and talk to visitors in person,” Quashen said. “There’ll be TVs all over the place and speakers, and visitors will see and hear families talk about their kids who died. People will then, we hope, be more informed so they can make better decisions.”
As with the Youth Grove, there are specific criteria for a young person’s name to be included in the Action Experience mobile memorial. Drug use must have been a major contributor to the person’s death. The victim had to be 25 or younger and a resident of Santa Clarita (if they have left the area, one parent or former guardian must still be a local resident).
Action Experience Rolling Out in Phases
Initially, Goldman said, the Experience mobile memorial will be geared toward teens and young adults in high school and college, and their families at community events starting in September.
“Right now, we’re designing Phase 1 with two videos in mind,” he said. “One will be a 20-25 minute video targeted to the general public, and the other is the short promotional teaser for the longer presentation.
“The Experience will pull up in front of a local high school, and have the teasers playing on the big billboard screen as students are walking into the auditorium, to get the kids thinking,” he said. “When they get into the auditorium, we’ll play the longer video.”
Action Experience facilitators will coordinate the event with school officials, and moderate a post-presentation discussion or Q&A session, Goldman said.
In many cases, the facilitators will also be parents who’ve lost children to drugs, he added. Survivors may also participate in large group presentations at churches or civic events.
“In other locations, we may have the entire 20-25 minute presentation playing on the big screen outside, like at Concerts at the Park before the show, or at Light the Night, as people are walking around the memorial for the American Cancer Society,” Goldman said. “The Experience would be parked there, so as they’re walking by, they’re getting a taste of the entire video, and if want to stop and watch the whole thing, they can.”
Phase 2, slated to roll out in September 2015, will focus on students in junior high/middle school and the upper elementary grades.
Because the Action Experience is digital, Goldman said, “As we go into other phases, we can easily change the message so it’s targeted to younger school kids or just to parents or other specific groups. There’s a whole variety of opportunities.”
Action Experience Provides Drug Education Updates
The Action Experience is designed to keep up to date with the latest trends in drug use and abuse among Santa Clarita teens and young adults, with an eye to educating everyone in the community about those developments as they happen.
For instance, the city of Santa Clarita, the SCV Sheriff’s Station, the Hart District, Action and others joined forces in the “Heroin Kills” campaign to battle a spike in local heroin or opiated pill overdoses between 2011, when five local residents died, and 2012, when the number spiked to 16.
The community-wide campaign gained traction in 2013. Only four opiate-related overdose deaths were confirmed for the entire year, according to the SCV Sheriff Station’s Bob Wachsmuth and confirmed by the Los Angeles County Coroner.
The city’s third annual anti-drug symposium, set for Aug. 27 at the Santa Clarita Activities Center and open to the public, will focus less on heroin, and more on opiated prescription drug abuse and addiction.
Opiate Overdose Deaths in the SCV on the Rise Again
Opiate-related overdose deaths are on the rise again in 2014, according to Wachsmuth’s latest figures.
At press time, Wachsmuth said, he had confirmed four fatalities so far in 2014, through the end of July –- two from heroin and two from opiate-based prescription pills. Another suspected overdose case is still pending confirmation with the Coroner’s office.
Even at four, that’s equal to the death rate for all of 2013.
“Honestly, (the increase) is not irregular,” Wachsmuth said. “I think four last year was an extremely great situation, but not something we can count on now or in the future. We’re very grateful it was only four, but we can’t rely upon that. The big adjustment was from 16 in 2012 to four in 2013. But if we go up one or two more this year, it won’t be a big difference.”
Still, it’s not good news that Santa Clarita’s heroin problem persists, or that abuse of other drugs, particularly opiate-based prescription drugs in pill form, continues to rise.
It’s a local reflection of what the national Centers for Disease Control have referred to as a national epidemic.
In the Santa Clarita Valley, Quashen said, “We’re still dealing with opiates No. 1 – prescription pills and smoking of heroin. But we’re finding many people who are calling our [Action drug and alcohol rehab] centers are using crystal meth and other drugs, because guess what? They’re afraid to use heroin. We did such a good job of educating about heroin that drug addicts are saying, ‘OK, I won’t use heroin. I’ll use other stuff.’
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Heroin is Just One of the Drugs that Kill
“Now, with Action especially, we want to educate the community that all drugs kill,” Quashen said. “It’s not just heroin – it’s heroin with the pills, the crystal meth, the cocaine. Too much alcohol or even caffeine can kill. The wrong combinations of drugs in the wrong amounts can kill. So you’re going to see a series of workshops Action will be hosting and others we’ll be involved in that will be simply called ‘Drugs Kill.’ Not just ‘Heroin Kills’ or anything else in particular, just ‘Drugs Kill.’
“Remember that almost all drug addiction starts innocently,” he said. “That’s what we want to educate people about.
“I always tell people, ‘I wish somebody could sit in my pocket just for a day and see what I see – the good, the bad, the ugly and the ugliest,” he said. “We see it all. If [these kids] are going to get into using drugs, let them see, at the end of the line, what comes up. That’s why we want to educate them before they get into trouble.”
Action Seeks Funding Partners for the Experience
The Action Family Foundation’s $40,000 launch budget includes the 32-foot motorhome; mechanical repairs; interior reconstruction; installation of digital equipment, video displays and computers; the vehicle’s “wrap,” or custom-branded paint job; video production; and development of a dedicated Action Experience website and social media accounts.
The annual operating budget of about $14,000 includes fuel, insurance, storage, repairs and part-time personnel.
“We are seeking additional sponsorships and possible grants to cover the remaining investment,” Goldman said. Sponsors could have their logos added to the videos, the website and the vehicle, he said.
For more information about the Action Experience mobile memorial, including sponsorship options, contact Goldman at 661-298-5487 or carl (at) hometownstation.com.
Photo: Courtesy Action Family Counseling
Source: Santa Clarita News