Perkasie resident wins national Advocate of the Year award
Thirty years ago, two Quakertown Community High School male students committed suicide by jumping off the Rockhill Quarry cliff after they had taken a large amount of LSD and left a tape recording of messages to their friends and family.
A couple months later, the girlfriend of one of the boys took her RwQ OLIH Ey D VHOI-LQflLFWHG JXQVKRW.
The tragedy hit the Quakertown community hard, especially considering the setting of the event: a stereotypical, quiet, suburban area where tragedies like this just didn’t happen.
Lee Rush, who won a national award for Advocate of the Year earlier this month, was hit hard by the event, as well — so much so that he decided to change the course of his career from direct care to prevention for Upper Bucks youth.
“That was the shockwave that woke people up to do early intervention in schools,” the Perkasie resident said of the 1983 incident.
Suicides in the 1980s were reaching near-epidemic levels, Rush said, and many of them involved drug problems.
Rush started his career as a counselor for delinquent youth at an alternative high school in Sellersville after he graduated from Indiana Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania with a degree in criminology.
Two or three years after the teen suicides, Rush became director of Project CARE — Chemical Abuse Reduction by Education — at Quakertown Hospital and also beFDPH RQH RI WKH VWDWH’V fiUVW Student Assistance Program trainers. Through Project CARE, which was created as a response to the suicides, Rush taught adults how to work with troubled youth in schools.
In 1995, Rush moved on to be director of human resources for LifeQuest, a senior health care service, for a couple years but found himself feeling restless and dreaming of starting his own QRQSURfiW, WKLFK KH GLG LQ 1999.
5UVK’V QRQSURfiW FRPpany, justCommunity, was launched thanks to a $187,000 start-up grant from the LifeQuest Foundation. His company seeks to build a safer, healthier community for young people.
In 2004, justCommunity was awarded a Drug-Free Community grant, which spurred Rush to get involved in Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, the association that gave him the Advocate of the Year award Monday, Feb. 7, in Washington, D.C.
“I look at it as a recognition of my life’s work,” Rush said of the award, which he accepted in front of 2,500 people.
“I was very surprised. While I know I’ve been doing this my whole life, I look more locally at my impact and our impact,” he said, referencing the Upper Bucks Healthy Communities Healthy Youth Coalition, of which justCommunity is a coordinating agency.
“I’m very humbled, but it’s not an individual effort. Our work is very team-oriented,” he said.
Rush attended the CADCA awards luncheon with fiYH RI KLV IDPLOY PHPEHUV, including his 83-year-old mother. Rush said his favorite part of the event was having his mother attend, as well as taking her afterward to see the White House, which she hadn’t seen since 1947.
One of the reasons Rush said he thinks he received the award is because of his initiative to connect with U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, and encourage him to become a champion for the Drug-Free Communities program.
In addition, Rush has helped to establish several programs for students in Upper Bucks schools. Some of these programs include a social norms campaign, AlcoholEdu for all ninth-grade health classes, a “Parents Who Host Lose the Most” campaign to discourage parents from letting minors drink at parties at their house, as well as a Strengthening Families Program for youth ages 10 to 14 and their parents.
It’s been a long time since the tragedy at the quarry occurred. Has the drug and alcohol situation gotten better since then?
Rush proudly showed off a chart, which revealed that there are much fewer eighth-graders drinking than in 2002 when the VUUYHY WDV fiUVW WDNHQ. ,Q 2002, about 18 percent had drank in the last 30 days; in the 2011-12 survey of eighth-graders, only 10 percent had drank in that time frame. Tobacco use, too, is on the decline.
Marijuana use, however, is slightly on the rise. Rush noted that about one in three high school seniors smoke marijuana in a 30-day period. He cited the legalization movement as hurting the perception of the drug’s harm.
“Kids don’t think it’s harmful, even though it’s more harmful today than it was 30 years ago,” Rush said, considering today’s higher THC value.
In addition to marijuana and alcohol, Rush showed concern for recent overdoses on heroin and for prescription pill abuse.
Thirty years after two teens bought 22 hits of LSD the day they committed suicide in a quiet town usually unshaken with this kind of tragedy, the cause for concern for troubled youth continues with Rush at the helm.
Lee Rush holds the Advocate of the Year award he received from the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.
Lee Rush, center, accepts the Advocate of the Year award from CADCA CEO General Arthur Dean, left, and Sue Thau, CADCA public policy consultant, right.