Editor's Note: This is the next in a series of stories about the member agencies of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
MARIETTA - For more than a decade, the Right Path for Washington County has worked to provide youth with alternatives to alcohol, drugs and other dangerous activities.
Initiatives include dances and pool parties as well as service opportunities like the Rightditarod race/scavenger hunt/food drive, which has raised more than $60,000 for area food pantries in its four-year existence.
Area children play in a foam pit outside the Marietta Aquatic Center during the 2011 Right Path for Washington County end-of-summer block party.
The activities are made possible by the support of the community, from individual volunteers and board members to contributions like the $2,000 from the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, which is used to sponsor the annual block party at the end of summer, said Cathy Harper, coordinator for the Right Path.
"Our mission is to promote healthy youth decisions," said Harper, who has been with the organization since it started in 2003 and continues to work with it even after being elected as Marietta city treasurer last year.
"We know it's much easier to prevent the problems" of drug abuse and addiction, she said. "Treatment dollars are limited, and recovery is a lifelong process."
It's estimated that every dollar spent on prevention saves $17 or $18 down the road on treatment, Harper said.
During the summer, the Right Path holds dances each Tuesday and family pool parties at the Marietta Aquatic Center on Fridays. Members, which include sixth-graders to high school seniors at Washington County schools, are actively involved in the planning of these and other activities.
"They have to be involved or it wouldn't work," she said.
Those summer events culminate in the block party, held at the aquatic center before school starts up again. This year's block party is scheduled for Aug. 15. In addition to swimming in the pool, there is music, food, a foam pit and more.
For the third summer, the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley will be the group's sole partner on the block party and will help promote it, Harper said.
One goal of both the safe, fun summer activities and other Right Path-supported endeavors like the Rightditarod and the Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter at Marietta High School is to connect students with their community.
"It's not just to say don't do this, never do that. It's more to give them the facts and help them make (healthy) decisions by engaging them in their community," Harper said.
Sometimes their connection to the Right Path endures even after they've aged out of the program.
Justin Moody started going to Right Path summer dances when he was in middle school. He said he enjoyed that they provided a safe place to go and played current music that appealed to him and his friends.
Moody stuck with the group through high school, then joined the board. Today he serves as the volunteer youth coordinator while he studies education online through Western Governor's University.
"I really like the summer stuff that we do for the kids that keeps them out of trouble," he said. "They always have nice comments, 'thank you for doing this.'"