The Columbus Dispatch

CHS grad on school’s frontline against drugs

- Drew Bracken

CHILLICOTH­E – He saw, as he put it, “the incredible mess Chillicoth­e was in due to opioids and drugs.”

“I felt Chillicoth­e deserved better,” he said.

So seven years ago Chillicoth­e native Gary Vonkennel – a 1966 “Distinguis­hed Alumni” of Chillicoth­e High School now living in Dallas – started Keys to Success, an anti-drug and educationa­l program. He did it, he said, “because my heart tells me it’s right.”

A person on the frontlines of that effort is Debbie Bettendorf.

“Keys to Success is an anti-drug and educationa­l program,” she explained, “that gives big incentives to help kids have any excuse to say no to drugs.”

Debbie (Shoults) Bettendorf grew up in Chillicoth­e, graduated from Chillicoth­e High School, then Ohio University.

“My main focus for many years was my family and raising my children,” she said. “During that time, I volunteere­d for many organizati­ons in the community to continue my passion for lending a hand and hoping to make a positive difference.”

Julie Violette noticed. She’s the former CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters and now the executive director of the Child Protection Center of Ross County.

“Debbie has made the youth of our community a priority,” assessed Violette. “She works hard to stay in tune with the obstacles they face in today’s world. She’s their biggest supporter, cheerleade­r and most importantl­y, advocate. She inspires change within them and connects easily no matter what they’re facing.”

“Debbie is not one to just talk about the problems and why we have them,” Violette added. “She’s a doer and comes to the table with solutions.”

“At this point in my life,” Bettendorf responded, “I really only get involved with things that truly mean something to me and when I know it has a positive impact on others.”

She started working as the marketing director for Chillicoth­e City Schools. And she got involved with the Keys to

Success program, doing things like helping coordinate drug tests. She also organizes, for instance, the big year-end event where they draw a junior or senior student’s name to win a new car donated by Herrnstein Auto.

“Gary Vonkennel was so concerned about the drug pandemic and founded the program,” Bettendorf said. “I was in several of the meetings during its creation and was passionate about getting involved. It’s a worthwhile program and costs absolutely nothing for the students to join, but they have a ton to gain by getting involved. It just made sense and, in my opinion, was a huge gift to our school district.”

“I’ve always known helping people brings me joy,” she summed. “So I’m challengin­g myself to try and do new things. The first part of my life’s journey was all about my two children. The second half is about what else I can do, and I know I have a lot to offer. I’m pleased with the first half. I’m working to make the second half even better.”

For more informatio­n, check out Keys to Success on Youtube.

 ?? ROBERT MCGRAW/GAZETTE ?? Debbie Bettendorf has been involved with the Keys to Success anti-drug and educationa­l program since its inception.
ROBERT MCGRAW/GAZETTE Debbie Bettendorf has been involved with the Keys to Success anti-drug and educationa­l program since its inception.

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