Jessica Wong and LeeAnn Mortensen from Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation with some of the “Secrets" they discussed. Photo by Paul J. Seeling
Jessica Wong and LeeAnn Mortensen from Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation with some of the “Secrets" they discussed. Photo by Paul J. Seeling

By Paul J. Seeling, Gateway News, with Natasha Ward, WW Health

BALDWIN, WI – “The Top Secret Project” came to Baldwin-Woodville High School for parents and those working with young people to help them learn what they need to know about drugs and alcohol. This free well-attended community event was co-sponsored by the Baldwin-Woodville School District and Western Wisconsin Health (WW Health). There were approximately 100 people who came out for the free meal for families provided by Blackhawk Bakery and Catering from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. There was free childcare provided, so adults could view the “In Plain Sight” display from 6:00 – 6:30 pm that was provided by the St. Croix County Sheriff’s and Medical Examiner’s departments.

The “In Plain Sight” display was a seemingly typical teenage bedroom, but it was loaded with “secrets.” “Secrets” that could actually be signals that a young person could be involved in risky, harmful or even illegal activity. There were false-bottomed soda pop cans and a tube of popular chips that when picked up felt right and with the chips they sounded right when given a shake.

St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson, Deputy Investigators Mike O’Keefe and Justin Johnson along with St. Croix County Medical Examiner (and State Senator) Patty Schachtner were on hand to explain many of the “secret” items such as smoking drug paraphernalia’s hiding places in hats and jewelry. These common looking items in plain sight or hiding in the room could be easily overlooked by trusting parents. If found, these “secrets” may not mean automatically that your child is using drugs or alcohol or have mental health issues; but knowing that some of these items and signs together could indicate drug issues that can often reveal the need for a conversation with your kids.

Also on hand for “The Top Secret Project” was B-W High School Principal Dave Brandvold as well a State Rep. Rob Stafsholt.

“Our motivation for launching this project was to encourage parents to take a closer look at their teenagers’ rooms. Often times, signs of danger are in plain sight, but if we don’t know what to look for, we can’t help our kids safely navigate the teen years,” said Cendee Palmer, Outreach Manager for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Palmer along with LeeAnn Mortensen, MPH Outreach Representative – Youth and Jessica Wong, Director of Business Development and Patient Care Network Director for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation made the presentation by Hazelden from 6:30 – 8:00 pm about what parents need to know about drugs and alcohol.

Hazelden’s Wong said this about the program, “The Top Secret Project addresses every day concerns facing our children related to alcohol and drug use, and other mental health issues. We try to educate community members on early warning signs of kids who are struggling so we can support them early and get them help before the consequences are unmanageable. Every parent that has brought their son or daughter to our adolescent and young adult treatment center in Plymouth, Minnesota has at one time said, ‘That will never be my child.’ And while we hope that is the case, there is also help for those who are struggling.”

She concluded stating, “The Baldwin-Woodville community is a wonderfully supportive community that believes in supporting parents, kids, and families – and we are so grateful for the opportunity to share this knowledge.”

“It was eye opening and slightly overwhelming (and intended to be) I think, to all participants about all of the risks and challenges teens are exposed. The Hazelden presenters went into detail about the ‘latest’ in drug/alcohol options and behaviors that are popular among youth right now (some were a bit shocking).  It gave great tips to help parents watch for signs of risky behavior and how to open up communication with teens and to “help them manage situations that they are not equipped to manage themselves” (related to their brain development). They have a ton of resources listed on their website that also describes the program a bit: hazeldenbettyford.org/resources-for/top-secret-project,” said Natasha Ward, Director of Community Health Improvement & Integrative Health at WW Health.

Kudos to all involved with “The Top Secret Project!”