Substance abuse conference a success

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By Reece Murphy

Officials with Lancaster County’s Coalition for Healthy Youth said this year’s fourth Prevention of Youth Substance Abuse in Rural Communities conference was another success.

The three-day event, held March 7-10 at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bradley building, drew about 150 drug-prevention specialists, counselors, ministers, school personnel, nonprofit administrators and others from as far away as Washington state. 

The conference was funded, in part, by a $20,000 city of Lancaster hospitality tax grant.

“I think we had an excellent conference,” Coalition for Healthy Youth Chairwoman Donna Herchek said. “It was a great opportunity to provide professionals in our area and across the United States with training opportunities. 

“Each year builds on previous years and each year our committee feels it gets better and better,” she said. 

Speakers for this year’s event included several keynote speakers who are nationally recognized as being at the top of their fields. 

The conference also featured several highly qualified workshop speakers.

Herchek said she heard from several participants who said they appreciated the conference’s unique focus.

“One thing I heard several times this year was participants saying they appreciated the rural focus of our conference,” Herchek said. “I think that rural focus sets us apart.”

This year’s conference wrapped up with a Teen Night, featuring youth motivational speaker, stand-up comedian, author and clinical neuropsychologist Matt Bellace, who was also one of the conference’s keynote speakers.

Before Bellace talked to the children, the coalition honored someone they said is very special — USCL’s Dean Dr. John Catalano. 

In appreciation of all his hard work and support, the coalition presented Catalano with a small Bob Doster sculpture. 

The honor was presented by S.C. Senate District 16 candidate Greg Gregory.

The group had to surprise Catalano.

“He’s been with the coalition from the beginning, when it was formerly the 6th Circuit Governor’s Youth Council and he was the chair,” Herchek said. “He has supported us through the years of planning for projects in the community and allows us to use the facilities for our monthly meetings and the conference.

“He doesn’t like to take credit, that’s why we had to surprise him,” Herchek said. “He’s just been very supportive of all our efforts.”

Herchek said the conference could not have been completed without the hard work and dedication of the more than 30 planning committee members.

Herchek said she expects next year’s event to be just as successful.

“We’ve actually saved the date for next year’s conference,” Herchek said. “We’re planning it for next March, so pretty soon we’ll have to start planning.”