The first time Mike (not his real name) sat through the FACE-IT (Families Acting Collaboratively to Educate and Involve Teens) program with his mom, Dolly (also not her real name) was the summer before his freshman year of high school. He was partying with friends in Thatcher Woods, and on his way out, he received a citation for carrying a large, unopened can of beer and having pot paraphernalia in his backpack.
Post-adjudication, the two River Forest residents received a referral to the evidence-based and family-focused alcohol, tobacco and other drug education, prevention, and early intervention program.
Initially launched in River Forest, FACE-IT is now located at 105 S. Oak Park Ave. in Oak Park.
"I watched the natural progression of Mike. I even tried to relate my experience around smoking pot, which was one time. I threw up and wet my pants at the same time in an alley," recalls Dolly. "I assumed that since I told him that, that he wouldn't do it."
As many parents discover, her teenager believed he was smarter than she, which he unceremoniously learned firsthand was
Looking in the mirror
Currently in its fourth year here, FACE-IT was first developed in Palm Beach, Fla., and brought here by John Williams, executive director of Oak Park Township Youth Services, and Bert Patania, the township's intervention team supervisor, as a pilot program they hoped would take off.
During the past school year, September through June, Williams says, the program was running at capacity with 68 local families (two or more participants) attending either a five-, eight- or 12-week session in two-hour modules, once a week.
While available on a voluntary basis, most participants are referred to FACE-IT as a consequence of the local adjudication process or via referral from the high schools and middle schools.
"We are not a counseling program," says Jenifer Roth, program administrator, "we are a strictly educational program and that's what we talk about. It's therapeutic in nature, but we are not going to be counseling anybody."
Even so, Williams points out that "if FACE-IT fits, that's great; if it doesn't, then they do a real good job of getting people where they need to go.
"One of the issues I have with zero-tolerance kinds of policies is that people who make errors, especially with substance abuse, is the pattern that people will relapse," he says. "So they need to be given another chance to work on that. You can do that in complete isolation and shame, which isn't good, or in a community where we are rooting for you, and here is some more information that you need because two years ago they were in the same boat."
After two rotations through FACE-IT, Dolly's hope is that in the future her son can start figuring things out sooner, quicker and safer than he has in the past.
"This has changed the conversation in our house, and this community, and that is a big deal," she says. "My hope for him is that now because of this program, he can look at things in a different way and next time make a different choice. If that is all he learns, I am happy, happy, happy."