Next Thursday evening, a group of young soldiers in Orange County’s war on drugs will swap Levis and T-shirts for ties, jackets and party dresses and pile into a cavalcade of 10 donated limousines.
When they arrive at the Edwards Hutton Centre Cinema in Santa Ana, they will meet briefly with the press before entering the building on a path of red carpet, as searchlights sweep across the sky.
The occasion will be the premiere of three anti-drug videos made by 20 high school students and young former drug abusers. From that evening on, one of the three videos will be shown before every feature film that plays in any Edwards movie theater in the county. The videos are the centerpiece project of the Student Advisory Council Against Drug Abuse, an 11-month-old organization made up of students from most of the county’s more than 70 high schools.
The concept grew out of an attempt begun last year by Sheriff Brad Gates to involve as many segments of the community as possible in an all-out attack on drug and alcohol abuse.
But the idea of making videos directed at their peers came from the students who produced them, said Nimisha Gohil, 17, an Orange High School student who is a member of the student advisory council.
The sheriff “asked us to come up with ideas, and this is one of the things we came up with,” Gohil said at a recent council meeting at a Sheriff’s Department facility in Santa Ana.
Asked what made her think drug abusers would listen to a bunch of kids squeaky clean enough to be enlisted by the county’s top law enforcement officer, Gohil thought a moment and answered:
“How can we not try?”
The videos themselves, on the advice of students such as Gohil and five young residents of the Phoenix House drug-abuse rehabilitation program in Santa Ana, avoid preaching and take a soft-sell approach.
One of the tapes runs 90 seconds, and the other two are 60 seconds each; they are the result of months of effort.
The tapes were made with the help of a $25,000 grant from AVCO Financial Services.
Shot at local high schools and featuring performances by Phoenix House residents and members of the student advisory council, the videos inform young people who might be using drugs that there are other young people willing to listen to their problems--young people who wear buttons that say, simply, “Friend.”
The student advisory council members wear those buttons in school.
“We don’t try to counsel people or offer professional advice,” advisory council member Michael Kassapian, 17, said, “but we do know where the professionals are and can send people to them.”
The students work under the direction of marketing consultant Paul Mondschein, director of a recently created nonprofit organization called Drug Abuse Is Life Abuse. The group was formed to coordinate the anti-drug activities of law enforcement organizations with those of business groups, young people and other segments of the private sector.
Gates, who has been working with numerous business groups on anti-drug programs, has said that he hopes to create an anti-drug effort in the county similar to the anti-smoking effort nationwide, emphasizing education and peer pressure. As part of that effort, he met with school officials and students from about 20 Orange County schools last November.
That meeting, Gohil and other students said, led to formation of the Student Advisory Council Against Drug Abuse. It initially had student representatives from about 20 schools, but by early October the council had at least one representative from about 50 of the county’s 73 high schools, Mondschein said.
The council meets monthly in a room at the Orange County Jail Intake and Release Center, devising and monitoring projects.
Besides making the videos, the students have passed out anti-drug bumper stickers, buttons and book covers to fellow students. They are trying to get anti-drug posters placed in school buses.
The premiere of the videos is a fund-raiser for which the council is asking 1,000 people to donate $50 each. Since the theater space that night is being offered free by Edwards Cinemas and the theater chain will show the videos for free on its screens, the proceeds will be used to make more videos.
“Edwards has committed to go along with this for as long as we want to,” Mondschein said. “We’d like to replace the three videos we’ve already made in about 3 months with updated versions.”
Jim Edwards, president of the theater chain, confirmed that the anti-drug trailer will be shown in all of the chain’s Orange County locations beginning next Thursday.
He said he is not certain how long the videos will be used, but added: “We will work with the Sheriff’s Department.
“We have used anti-drug trailers in the past on a national basis, but this is special since it involves local people. I think it is tremendous to get the high school students involved.”
Times staff writer Jean Davidson contributed to this article.