Eric Van Aart
Eric Van Aart is 14 years old and attends Woodburn Junior High. He lives with his mom, who is a homemaker, his dad, who is a police officer, and his seventeen year old sister, Gretchen. Eric grew up in a neighborhood full of fun and friendship. “Growing up I had my own special group of friends who I liked to hang out with, but my best friend was Paul Worthington. We went everywhere together and I practically lived at his house. All of us liked to play games around the neighborhood, especially touch football. Sometimes we’d go to Paul’s and play video games for hours. We all had a lot of fun together.”
Eventually, Eric and Paul began experimenting with smoking and drinking. Eric explains, “We ran into the backyard and started smoking the cigarettes. At first when we started smoking we were coughing and our eyes started watering–it was awful. But I thought I looked cool so I kept doing it.” Instead of doing the activities they used to do like going to the mall, to the movies, and playing sports, Eric and his friends began drinking in the field behind the library and in Paul’s basement after school while Paul’s parents were not home.
Eric and Paul’s substance use increased through the seventh grade. At the end of their seventh grade year, an incident occurred which resulted in Eric being put on probation for 45 days. During that time he was ordered to go to an alcohol and drug counselor once a week at the local youth center. He also had to do 100 hours of community service there too. His parents grounded him for the length of his probation and he was only allowed to go to school and the youth center.
Now, Eric is very involved in the youth center, and hangs out with the kids who spend their time there. He started playing football at the center, and talks to younger kids about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. His grades have improved and he has taken up writing for
for the school newspaper. “I have a whole new group of friends now. I still like Paul. We had so much fun together growing up and I miss him a lot. But he’s using drugs and I don’t want to be around him anymore. Besides, he left me alone to face the cops by myself. Now, I can see he has a lot of problems. So it’s not surprising that he didn’t hang around that night.”
Eric now realizes that at first he could’ve made the choice to stop but didn’t, because he wanted Paul and the other guys to think he was cool. He now knows that kids who use alcohol and other drugs are hurting themselves and maybe other people too. As Eric says, “You know drinking and drugging isn’t cool. What IS cool is realizing that you’re too important to be putting that junk into your body. I’ve got a whole group of friends now who choose not to use – I think that’s pretty cool!”
Eric is the featured character in The Kids on the Block program on ATOD (alcohol, tobacco & other drugs).