DENHAM SPRINGS — Children played among the pink and red balloons on the cafeteria floor as their parents escaped for a few hours Saturday.
Incorporating baby-sitting with food and fun, the Denham Springs High School Jackets Against Destructive Decisions moved a step closer to funding the organization’s trip to the national conference by hosting Parents’ Night Out.
While parents enjoyed a belated Valentine’s date night, JADD members entertained their children with dinner and Valentine’s Day activities.
For $15, the high school students baby-sat children 3-12 years old from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., with proceeds benefiting members who will attend the Students Against Destructive Decisions National Conference in June.
Before the activities officially began, children who arrived early were already wearing out a few JADD members. Denham Springs High School juniors Ryan Williams and Jenson Wall chased and were chased by several of the younger boys.
Williams, co-president of JADD, described the children as “very energetic” and said the night was “fun but tiring.”
After a pizza dinner, children participated in Valentine’s Day arts and crafts, Valentine’s Day Pictionary and bingo, sack races and a cupcake walk, among other activities.
Later, the children snacked on popcorn while they watched a movie.
Christy McMaster, an English teacher at DHS, said she planned to have a quiet night at home after dropping off her two daughters.
“They feel very welcome here, and they were excited about coming,” McMaster said of her daughters, who have attended other JADD events. Molly, 8, and Cecilia, 5, wasted no time getting to the arts and crafts table after arriving.
Gabrielle Harris, 6, also stuck close to the arts and crafts table and said her favorite part of the night was coloring pictures of Hello Kitty.
During events such as the sack race and pin the heart on the giraffe, JADD members appeared to be having as much fun as their small friends.
Under the direction of sponsors Elise LeBlanc, Shannon Donze and Jessica Raymond JADD hosts several events designed to promote a healthy lifestyle while raising funds for students to attend the national conference.
In December, JADD hosted Breakfast with Santa, which gave parents the opportunity to go Christmas shopping while their children ate and took pictures with Santa Claus.
JADD members use Parents’ Night Out and Breakfast with Santa to educate children about topics such as “seat belt safety” and “stranger danger.”
On March 18, JADD will host one of its biggest events of the year, the Prom Fashion Show.
The fashion show is actually more a variety show, LeBlanc said, and has been put on for the past 15 years. Students participate in skits centered on the night’s theme while dressed in formal gowns and tuxedos.
The show is dedicated to a former DSH student, Tara Rice, and her mother, Sandy, who were killed by a drunken driver, LeBlanc said.
A member from the Rice family has attended the show each year to speak with students about the dangers of alcohol and drinking and driving.
About 400 students attend the show each year, LeBlanc said.
Students involved in JADD also participate in various community service projects throughout the year, Donze said.
The group also was involved with Hope House, which will open in the spring as a rehabilitation center for victims of human trafficking.
“We’ve had students helping with the building of the cottages,” Donze said. “They have done everything from drywall to cleaning floors to landscaping.”
JADD members will return to Hope House this weekend to continue work on the property.
JADD got its start at DSH more than 25 years ago, and has become one of the school’s largest student organizations. About 200 students are involved in JADD, LeBlanc said.
Senior Kristina Cavia joined JADD during her sophomore year at DSH. She said she looks forward to bringing the knowledge presented at the national conference back to her school and community.
“Seeing the path that some teenagers chose to take makes me realize that I didn’t want those things for myself,” Cavia said. “The conference will provide us with ways to reach out to others and to allow me to help others stay off that negative path.”
JADD has received numerous state and national titles in the past five years, including SADD Chapter of the Year, SADD National Advisers of the Year and SADD National Activity of the Year.
The DSH chapter is the only SADD chapter in the nation to receive all three national honors, LeBlanc said.
This year will be the first time that the chapter is attending the national conference since 2010. About a dozen DHS students will attend the national conference.
“I’ve seen people’s lives changes because of JADD,” Williams said. “I love going into our community and making a difference.”