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Fun Friday nights keep Colorado Springs-area teens out of trouble

August 10, 2017 Updated: August 11, 2017 at 6:21 pm
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Up to 400 students attend RAD events every week at the Tri-Lakes YMCA in Monument. Photo by Joel Shannon, YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region

One shining example of the adage that tragedy begets change for the good is RAD: Real Alternatives to Drugs and Drinking.

The project of the Ryan Pappas Memorial Foundation and the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region provides a safe yet fun environment for high school students to interact every Friday night.

The kick-off event for this school year is a luau from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Friday at the Monument Tri-Lakes YMCA in the Young Life Teen Center.

It's free to all high school students in the region with a valid high school ID, including incoming freshmen.

The Hawaiian-themed celebration will provide homemade treats, music, volleyball, basketball, Xbox, Wii and other energetic diversions.

"If there was something like this going on that night, that's where Ryan would be. He loved dodgeball and volleyball and hanging out with his friends," said his mother, Susan Pappas.

She and her younger son, Brandon, started the foundation in memory of Ryan. A few weeks after beginning his senior year at Palmer Ridge High School in 2014, Ryan and another student were killed when a buddy crashed the car they were riding in. The driver admitted in court to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana before driving with the two passengers.

Ryan had not been drinking that night, his mother said.

"He got in a car with someone who was, so just being around drinking can have negative consequences," she said. "RAD is powerful because it's about kids helping their friends to make choices that are different, and alcohol and pot don't have to be a part of it."

RAD provides events for high schoolers that don't involve partying.

And it's run by kids, with parents serving as helpers and advisors.

"They feel like it's their program - they've taken ownership," said Pappas.

Teen leaders from Palmer Ridge and Lewis-Palmer High plan an event for every Friday night. In addition to hanging out at the Y's teen center, events have included ice skating, karaoke sing-offs, ice cream socials, ping pong tournaments, a carnival with games, pumpkin carving, a Nerf gun war, canvas painting and a graduation party.

The popularity of the activities tells parent Marcy Deeds that the idea is working.

"The teens keep coming back every week," she said.

The events attract from 100 to 400 students, with more than 5,000 attending to date.

"That's a lot of teens who aren't on the streets doing something they shouldn't be doing," Deeds said.

The first event was held in the spring of 2015, and in January 2016, the RAD name and format emerged. This January, RAD formally became a YMCA program, in collaboration with Ryan's memorial foundation.

"As a mother, I kept saying, 'What else could I have done?'" Pappas said.

She started asking her son's peers what it would take for them to not party and drink and do drugs.

"They want to get together with friends, have someplace to go that's not their parents' house. They're looking for a way to connect, and they want food," she said.

Exactly what RAD delivers.

"RAD is so successful because it's primarily run by students for students, and RAD leaders are powerhouses in their community," said Tia Miller, regional director of teen initiatives for the YMCA.

The Tri-Lakes Y is the only location to offer RAD, but Miller said the organization hopes to expand to other sites in partnership with other school districts.

The Ryan Pappas Memorial Foundation also provides drug and alcohol resistance education and has awarded $5,000 in scholarships, to date, for Lewis-Palmer School District 38 high school seniors and sports programs.

"I am super proud of our students and what they are doing to positively impact their peers and community," Pappas said.

Adult chaperones are needed for the Friday night events. To sign up, go to: www.signupgenius.com/go/5080c48a4a72ba7f94-radfriday.

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