Perkasie res­i­dent wins na­tional Ad­vo­cate of the Year award

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Meghan Ross

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.

News-her­ald photo

Lee Rush holds the Ad­vo­cate of the Year award he re­ceived from the Com­mu­nity Anti-Drug Coali­tions of Amer­ica.

Submitted photo

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.

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