February 28, 2017 edition of The Times in Ottawa, Illinois.
Students from Four LaSalle County Schools.

STORY PUBLISHED IN THE February 28, 2017 edition of The Times in Ottawa, Illinois
BY Steve Stout and the photo by Tom Sistak – both from The Times.

Ottawa,Illinois –

Steve Stout, steves@mywebtimes.com, 815-431-4082

Feb 27, 2017 Updated Feb 27, 2017

Marseilles Police Chief Jim Hovious shared a hard truth to an assembly of junior high school students.

“We had a total of 19 heroin-related overdoses here in Marseilles in January,” Hovious said Monday morning. “And the good news? We had zero in February, so far.”

Hovious said no one starts out wanting to be a junkie and encouraged children to fight the peer pressure of drug and alcohol abuse.

A performance troupe, which uses skits, songs and sensible stories to address real-life issues affecting young people, also presented a special assembly for students to drive that point home Monday at Marseilles Elementary School.

More than 600 students from junior high classes in Rutland, Milton Pope, Seneca and Marseilles districts reacted to the 90-minute presentation put on by members of the MWAH! (Messages Which Are Hopeful) Performing Arts Troupe.

Based out of Elmhurst, teenaged MWAH! members used their musical and acting talents to tackle such social issues as teen suicide, self-harm, child abuse, abusive relationships, alcohol and drug abuse and stereotyping based on gender, skin color or cultural backgrounds.

Featured during the program, Marseilles school choral members and other local students joined in with the performers in songs, skits and contemporary dance.

The common theme of the assembly was about making the right choices at school or at home.

“It was an amazing experience,” said 11-year-old Marseilles student Melanie Kaminski, who joined troupe members in a short fictional family physical abuse skit. “I think my classmates got a lot out of this program (Monday).”

Jennifer Higgins, of Geneseo, told a story about her son, Joshua, who took his own life when he was about to enter seventh grade a few years ago.

“I miss his hugs,” Higgins said, tears in her eyes. “We really don’t know why he did it. I’m here today to tell you when things in life get tough, find someone to talk to — a friend, a counselor, a doctor. Asking for help when you need it is always the right thing to do. Please ask for help.

“If I can reach just one kid, it is worth coming here,” Higgins added.

Marseilles school counselor Maggie Alderman, echoed the mother’s sentiments.

“If you’re being abused or know someone who is being abused, find an adult, find me, and we will get you the help you or your friend needs.”

With origins that can be traced back to 1983, the MWAH! troupe has appeared at schools and conferences throughout Illinois as well as 16 other states.

Marseilles instructor Gayle Bianchi and School Board Secretary and Transportation Manager Deb DeGraaf coordinated the troupe’s performance for the four schools.

Go to mwah.net for more information on the group.

When times get tough, students should reach out to:

  • Parents, or family
  • Teachers, counselors, principal
  • Doctor, or medical professional
  • A friend
  • Call National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK