Meredith Miller and Sarahi Alvarado speak as part of the MWAH! troupe's appearance at Morrison High School on February 26, 2018.
Troupe member Landon Ballard speaking about the life and death of Keenan Clousing, a victim of heroin overdose at the age of 19.
 Morrison High School students watching a more somber part of the MWAH! presentation.
Landon singing to Morrison High School student Emma Peppers during a lighter moment of the MWAH! presentation.
Waiting for the show to begin! (photo by Brian Bartoz, Morrison High School teacher and Scholastic Bowl coach - February 26, 2018)

(Photos by Alex T. Paschal, staff photographer for Saul Valley Media.)

Freeport Journal-Standard newspaper

February 27, 2018

By: Derrick Mason, staff writer for the Freeport Journal-Standard.

Morrison – A group of youngsters is spreading a positive message at high schools and middle schools in Illinois, one performance at a time.

The MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe was founded more than 34 years ago and has recently made stops at schools such as Freeport Middle School and Morrison High School.

MWAH!, which stands for Messages Which Are Hopeful, features performers who range in age from 11 to 22 years old from all across northern Illinois.

Troupe members share their message against drug use, bullying, suicide, racism, and other issues through acting, singing, dancing, and sharing personal stories.

‘”It’s kids talking with other kids about problems we’re dealing with,” said Landon Ballard, a troupe member and also the troupe’s Assistant Director and a freshman at Rockford University.

“We’re not any better than the kids we’re talking to.  We’re going through some of the exact same stuff,” said Landon.

The troupe on Monday (February 26, 2018) focused on remembering the victims of the school shooting in Florida as well as teen suicide victims.  They also took on issues such as abusive relationships, child abuse, and bullying.

The performance featured testimonials from several people who have dealt with drugs, a poor home life, and the loss of loved ones.

Sarahi Alvarado, 18, started using drugs when she was 11 years old, eventually overdosing at the same time as one of her friends.  She survived, but her friend did not.

Alvarado has been drug-free for two years and now travels with the troupe to schools to share her story and hopefully prevent others from following the same drug-abuse path.

There currently are about 1,900 deaths each year linked to heroin and fentanyl use in Illinois, the troupe said.

“It makes a difference in people’s lives to know that there’s a message of hope,” Alvarado said.  “I think a lot of times people think of the regular addict as somebody in the streets shooting up dope, but I don’t think that’s what it is.  I kind of like to break the stereotype that an addict looks like that because an addict comes in all shapes and sizes.”

After the show, students at the school were given the option of discussing the group’s messages in the high school library, a more personal setting.  Participating were about 60 Morrison High School students along with school support staff, MWAH! troupe members, and others associated with the troupe.

Ballard said the positive effect the troupe has on peoples’ lives is the most rewarding part of performing. “I love going to the discussion sessions afterward or when kids reach out to us through social media and just seeing the impact we’re making.  It’s one thing to stand up here, say all this stuff, and expect they’re going to change.  But it’s completely different for them to email you and say ‘Hey, I was thinking about suicide and your show changed my life.’”

By: Derrick Mason, staff writer for the Freeport Journal-Standard at 815-232-0133 – derrick.mason@journalstandard.com