“It focuses them on the positive,” Beltran said. “They feel they belong.”
The club’s efforts to promote a drug-free lifestyle can offset temptation from other sources, she added, especially if the students pal around with peers who have also pledged to stay clean. “I’ve had several students tell me my dad is an alcoholic or some other relative is doing drugs, but the club provides an alternative for them.”
Isabella, the sixth-grader, said she likes the club’s education efforts. “We talk about drugs and what they do to the brain,” she said.
Her friend Sahil enjoys that too, but it’s the activities that keep him coming back. “We get to do fun projects,” he added.
In 1992, when Josefsberg and other community leaders launched the first DFYIT club at Homestead High two months after Hurricane Andrew had pummeled the area, the activities drew the students. Josefsberg had visited a similar club in Texas that drug-tested students, but it didn’t have that community service component. “It didn’t sound like fun. It didn’t have heart.”
Over the years, DFYIT has hosted college information events and annual youth summits on a variety of subjects from substance abuse to date rape and gang violence. It’s awarded scholarships and launched a YouTube video contest as part of its SoBe Sober campaign, which draws attention to the dangers of drinking.
“We are combating the perception that everybody does it because that’s just not true,” Lopez said. “Prevention is working, but our efforts have to continue. We can’t stop now.”