I believe, more than ever in this troubled nation, that stories of good works--particularly by the emerging generation--should be hoisted high into the light of public awareness in hopes their deeds will spawn similar efforts in every Arkansas community.
Chrissie Larchez of Harrison certainly is a fine example of the difference one determined and dedicated person can make. A licensed substance abuse counselor, Chrissie has worked for years to help adolescents and juvenile delinquents by steering them toward their better angels and passions.
The Ignite group caught fire in March 2016, after Chrissie had been hired as the youth program coordinator with the Drug Free Communities grant. Her idea was to create a youth coalition in the schools.
"The first year, I had a group in Harrison and Alpena," she said, explaining that she pulled students together and spoke to them about substance abuse and prevention while making positive changes in their schools and community. "I offered them training. And that wouldn't cost them anything.
"The idea was to show these young people they have a voice and the power to change what their community will look like for them in 10 or 20 years. I believe in empowering our young people to get involved and giving them the confidence to make positive changes now."
Once formed, Chrissie stepped back and allowed Ignite members to assume control. "You didn't have to be an honor student or have any special talents," she said, "only a heart to make a difference and a great reference for your college application. I let them pick their name, logo, helped them with their mission and vision statements, elected officers, and we were off!"
That's assuredly an understatement. This group's accomplishments over the ensuing five years have been remarkable. Their energy and diligence already has resulted in four state and two community awards for various projects, all involving the fight against harmful tobacco use.
Chrissie accompanied Ignite members to several youth training sessions known as "lead and seed," even taking them to Washington, D.C., in three consecutive years, where they attended the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America training program.
Afterwards, they discovered projects in their community they felt strongly about, she said. "And they stayed busy every day. They did their research and made PowerPoints and presentations to the Harrison City Council to clean up their park by posting no smoking signs.
"They addressed the Boone County Quorum Court with a proposal to clean the town square of cigarette butts and included a compromise of adding a smoking area to contain smokers, thereby keeping the historic square clean.
"They addressed the local school board about the vaping issues in the school and made a presentation for vape detectors to detour smokers in school. The school board agreed to buy those vape detectors and install them throughout the school where Ignite members identified smoking areas."
I wondered how group members felt about their goals and what this experience has meant to them. Alathea Bright, Ignite's president for three years before graduating, said that as a member since 2017, she was pleased to see Ignite doing far more than the prevention efforts they shared.
"It was a group that all hung out beyond our tasks within the group," she said. "We continue to stay in touch and work on Ignite projects together. I'll forever hold a special place in my heart for the peers I loved so dearly, and the work of Ignite. This is very important due to the rising numbers of those affected or who personally used drugs or alcohol."
The group's most impressive achievement, Chrissie said, was their presentation to the Harrison City Council about raising the age for sales of tobacco products before it became a national law.
"They received a standing ovation as the ordinance approving their goal was passed in one reading at Harrison and Alpena city councils. Some local representatives took their effort to the state Capitol where it also passed. Governor Hutchinson called me to invite Ignite students to the Capitol to witness him signing Act T21 act into law."
Not satisfied to rest on their achievements, the Ignite warriors lately have been working with both the city council and quorum court to pass a resolution that would prevent legalizing recreational marijuana in the community and county.
Breanna Setchfield, Ignite's current vice president, joined because she was seeking to help make a positive change in her school since "so many students were vaping, smoking, drinking and etc. Joining Ignite has helped me grow as a person. I am not shy anymore or afraid to stand up for what I believe in or think is right. It's also taught me how to do research and take necessary steps to take something to the city council to make a policy change within my community."
Continue to ignite the kindling beneath needed community reforms, young leaders of tomorrow.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.