St. Clairsville Drug-free Club Expanding

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A program that helped about 750 local students remain drug-free last year is expanding, thanks to help from many individuals and organizations.

Heading off drug abuse and addiction before it even begins is important to Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland, who also serves as commander of the Belmont County Drug Task force and as a coordinator of the Belmont County Schools Staying Clean club. Others in the local law enforcement and judicial system agree that early intervention may be the only way to ultimately solve the opioid crisis that is plaguing the nation, and that is why individuals such as Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato and Juvenile Court Judge Mark Costine are working with McFarland to have a positive influence on as many area youth as possible.

Several months ago Fregiato, who is also a car collector and automotive enthusiast, was struck by the idea that other members of local car clubs might like to help support the Staying Clean drug-free initiative in local schools. He set out to collaborate with them and several area businesses to organize a fundraising car show in support of the drug-free club.

Those efforts will culminate this week, when the Belmont County Schools Staying Clean Car Show takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville.

Registration begins at 10 a.m., and the registration fee will be waived for all student members of the Staying Clean club who wish to enter their vehicles.

The actual show, with the theme “Go Big or Go Home,” takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dash plaques will go to the first 150 registrants, and free T-shirts will go to the first 100 student drug-free club members.

But that’s not all local students will get out of this event.

Fregiato and other volunteers secured more than 40 sponsors for the show, and they already have raised several thousand dollars. All proceeds will go to the drug-free club, which McFarland said already has chapters in all public high schools in Belmont County, as well as at the Belmont-Harrison Career Center and at St. John Central in Bellaire.

With the funds raised by the car show, the club will be able to welcome even more members in two specific ways:

∫ First, the club will be expanding to include younger students. McFarland said the organization has served students in ninth through 12th grades for the past four years. Now, thanks to support from the car clubs and the show sponsors, Belmont County Staying Clean will grow to include seventh- and eighth-graders in six school districts.

∫ Second, students who attend the car show on Saturday will not be required to pay the traditional $10 fee for joining the club, which may make it possible for even more young people to participate. McFarland said parents of club members are asked to pay the fee to help cover the cost of drug testing, which is performed with help from medical staff at Wheeling Hospital.

“The main purpose of the club is to educate students about the importance of being drug-free,” McFarland said, noting that drug test results are not used for law enforcement or disciplinary purposes.

He said neither police nor school staff are informed of the results of students’ drug tests. Instead, an independent individual notifies the parents of any student who tests positive for drug use. The parents receive information about what drug their child tested positive for and are advised about ways to get help for their child. Those students are not banned from club membership, but they are scheduled for repeat testing at a later date.

“Each student who joins the club gets an ID with their photo,” McFarland added. “With that, when they are at a party and are offered drugs, they are able to say, ‘No, I can’t, because I could be drug tested.’ It’s another option to help them avoid peer pressure.”

Those cards also help members claim incentives from local businesses that support the club. For example, a pizza shop might offer a free beverage with the purchase of pizza.

Each school also has its own coordinator, usually a teacher or resource officer, who provides in-school rewards for participation. These might include incentives such as an occasional extended lunch period or a free dessert on Friday.

A year-end party for all club members is traditionally held at Barkcamp State Park — a facility McFarland said has been a pleasant surprise for many attendees.

“Some of these kids never knew it existed,” he said of the park.

With the program’s expansion, McFarland already is planning to conclude the school year with two parties — one for seventh- and eighth-graders and another for freshmen through seniors.

He also said he wouldn’t be able to provide these services to local kids without the help of volunteer Stacey Longenette.

“What an amazing person,” McFarland said of his longtime helper, noting two more women have been recruited to assist with club activities. Among those activities are 40 drug test dates that are already scheduled for the coming school year.

While the cost of that many drug tests can add up, McFarland stressed that the car show and all the help he has received from its sponsors, the Classy Chassis Car Club, the Ohio Valley Street Survivors and the Chancellor Car Club, Fregiato and Costine will greatly alleviate those expenses. He added that any student who is interested in joining the club should do so., regardless of whether they think they can afford membership.

“We would never turn a kid away,” he said.