During the MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe assembly on October 16, Prairie Central Junior High School choir members joined troupe members in singing a song about peace and unity. Photo by Luke Smucker of The Blade news staff.

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In its appearance on October 16, 2017 at Prairie Central Junior High School in Forrest, the MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe (acronym for Messages Which Are Hopeful!) focused on a number of issues facing today’s teenagers. During the assembly, McLean County Coroner Dr. Kathleen Davis also spoke about the realities of opined abuse in the area.

With social media and the internet weaving itself into the fabric of modern society, teens may be exposed to a number of issues and topics without the filter of knowledge and common sense that comes with age. By openly discussing difficult topics such as racial divisiveness, abusive relationships, parental divorce, teenage self-injury, drug abuse, youth depression and suicide, the troupe aspires to give students a healthy perspective on the world around them.

“I think it’s important for our generation to recognize what’s out there and realize how people are impacted by the choices that we make,” troupe member Melanie Jones of Wheaton said.
Troupe member Lindsay Kent of Shorewood added, “I think it’s nice to meet different students and potentially change their lives. Sometimes we keep in touch with them, many people will see our show and get in touch with us on social media, which is cool because we like to correspond back and forth.”

Troupe member Jade Parr of Geneseo decided to join the troupe after they performed at her school two years in a row.
“I was going through some family issues and this group really helped me find my foundation and rebuild my life when it seemed like it was falling apart,” she said.
In addition to the real-life stories, contemporary music and audience interaction of the MWAH! troupe, Davis gave her account on opioid overdose-related deaths to drive home the realities of the crisis in the area.

“I think we need to be proactive and educate,” she said. “I grew up with the notion that drugs are bad, this generation has to understand that drugs are deadly. I’m sure everyone remembers the ‘this is your brain on drugs’ campaign.

“However, these days you can drop dead after your first time. You want to tell them the truth, but you know they are still someone’s child and you don’t want to offend the parents.”
The truth that Davis shared during the assembly is that last year McLean County had 16 opioid overdose deaths. Up until July 27 of this year, McLean County only had seven opioid overdose deaths. However, from July to today, that number has increased to 31 opioid overdose deaths.

“Essentially, the number has doubled,” Davis said. “That is absolutely profound for McLean County. We’re not as big as some counties, we don’t have millions of people, we’re 174,000 and 31 deaths is way too much. The heroin that is mixed with fentanyl is literally called ‘drop dead.’ We still find bodies with the needle in their arms, or in the act of trying to do the drug.”
“Narcan, the drug used to reverse the effects of opioids, will not save you because these drugs are dangerous and they will kill you instantly,” Davis added. “So, if you or someone you know has an addiction, please talk to the loved ones in your family about it. By the same token, don’t try drugs that people offer you. These drugs are dangerous and they are deadly and they alter your brain chemistry.”

Davis hopes her message will serve as a wake-up call to the junior high students who find themselves in some phase of Freud’s stages of identity vs. isolation.
“They are trying to figure out whether they want to try and be popular or isolate themselves,” Davis said. “If they decide to go the popular route, they may consider doing the things that popular kids are doing. Many of them feel that they’re invincible, but the sad truth is, these opioids can kill you. You don’t want them to engage in behavior that is going to kill them.”
While not every topic will hit home with every junior high student, Kent said the troupe’s goal with each performance is to touch upon a number of topics and give students something positive to reflect on.

“If they aren’t impacted by one segment of the show, there’s potential for the next topic to hit closer to home with them,” Parr said. “You don’t know the people you’re performing for, but you hope your words can impact someone’s life. I try to remember that what we discuss has the potential to impact the majority of our audience and it pushes me to continue to do more.”