“Friends” Program Offers Lifelong Lessons
Through participation in New Student Orientation, Penn State Altoona students formally commence their undergraduate pursuit of knowledge and discovery. Thanks to a special program conceived by Essie Auker, addictions specialist in the college’s Health and Wellness Center located in the Sheetz Family Health Center on campus, first-year students are also introduced to “Friends for Life.”
The “Friends For Life” campaign is a year-long, campus-wide, multi-faceted approach that focuses on individual and shared commitment to the responsible consumption of alcohol. The campaign, now in its fifth year, emphasizes the risks of dangerous drinking. The overall concept relates to the lifelong friendships that so often develop among students who first meet at Penn State Altoona.
The campaign goals include providing alcohol-free alternatives; encouraging students to “look out” for one another, especially if consuming alcohol; reinforcing personal responsibility and accountability related to drug and alcohol use; and sharing information that dispels common misconceptions, such as passing out due to excessive drinking is “just sleeping it off.”
Statistics compiled by the National College Health Association during a “health assessment” of students at colleges and universities across the nation clearly indicate that “Friends for Life” is having a significant impact on prevention efforts at Penn State Altoona. A comparison of the spring 2011 and spring 2013 summaries of the assessment revealed that the percentage of Penn State students who reported either that they do not drink or did not have five or more drinks of alcohol in one sitting (high risk) over a designated two-week period rose 5.7 percent to 70.2 percent.
An increasing number of Penn State Altoona students also report that they eat before and/or during their consumption of alcohol and remain with the same group of friends the entire time when they are drinking.
During the orientation program, students sign a banner promising to be “Friends For Life” and participate in a group photo. Each student receives a free “Friends For Life” t-shirt and a wristband. Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry, chancellor and dean of Penn State Altoona, demonstrates her support for the campaign each year by attending the orientation session, participating in the photo op, and interacting with students.
A popular component of the “Friends for Life” marketing campaign is “Essie Says.” Throughout the year, Auker communicates with students through Twitter, sharing advice, information, and statistics related to alcohol and other drug use prevention. During New Student Orientation, cutouts of Auker’s face were distributed. Imprinted on the back of each cutout was the message “Be a Friend For Life! Friends don’t let friends die drunk,” along with the Twitter handle.
“I love the program and totally enjoy handing out the t-shirts and interacting with the students,” said Auker. “It is so exciting to see their enthusiasm and their excitement as they begin their journey here at Penn State Altoona. I feel it is an honor to be part of that journey, and I smile every time I see a student wearing one of our t-shirts.”