In 1983, drugs and illegal drug activity were at a minimum in West Feliciana Parish and not a huge problem for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We were a really small department back then, very rural, but drugs were starting to trickle their way through,” said Ivy Cutrer, a chief deputy at the time. “We wanted to make kids aware of these drugs and their dangers.”
So, in an effort to educate rural children and their families, many who had never been exposed to narcotics, Cutrer founded the West Feliciana Parish Drug & Alcohol Awareness Council in 1984.
“It started small but has continued to grow over the years,” Cutrer said.
Years ago, Cutrer made an impact at one West Feliciana school when he visited to educate the young students about the dangers of illegal drugs, he said. He recalls spreading various illicit drugs out on a table for identification purposes.
Mark Givens, a third-grader at the time, was fascinated by what he saw, remembering Cutrer and the drug council years later.
Today, Givens is grown and working for Entergy and recently presented $5,000 to the council in the form of an Entergy Open Grant.
Cutrer, the council’s director, and Luanne Vaccaro, council coordinator, accepted the grant Dec. 3.
The council falls under the umbrella of the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office and is supported by a group of volunteers, community partners, school officials and members of law enforcement.
Grants like the one from Entergy help fund age-appropriate drug and alcohol awareness and education programs, motivational speakers and information offered throughout the year.
Along with donations from private and public entities and fundraisers, the council is able to participate in the many activities and events it presents each year, Vaccaro said.
Vaccaro works five days a week operating the council’s headquarters on Commerce Street, and other than her salary, which is paid by the Sheriff’s Office, the council is self-funded. Cutrer helps oversee the council at least three days a week, or as needed, with Vaccaro. The two organize, plan and fundraise months in advance.
“There is a lot of work that goes into what the council does,” said Vaccaro.
Similar in outward appearance to the D.A.R.E. program, the two are different and not affiliated in any way, Vaccaro said.
The Drug and Alcohol Refusal Education program is a national, lesson-based program that teaches peer resistance and refusal skills.
The WFP Drug & Alcohol Awareness Council’s mission, according to Cutrer and Vaccaro, is to educate and inform children and families in the community about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and the importance of making good choices.
The council is involved with many community and parish events by bringing its promotional trailer to St. Francisville’s Summer Fun Day, Kid’s Christmas, Red Ribbon Week for a balloon release, the 4-H Livestock show, SADD clubs at middle and high schools, community health fairs and transition fairs, which assist high schoolers in making the leap to colleges and careers.
“The speakers we find are vetted thoroughly. We don’t get just anyone,” says Vaccaro. “We have to make sure these people are dynamic speakers, motivational in every way and are going to connect with young children and teens. We don’t just pick someone off the internet and that’s that. The speakers we obtain are very, very good.”
Vaccaro said a lot goes into securing a council-sponsored speaker — coordinating with school officials, getting the green light from the superintendent, determining if the speaker would do better in smaller classroom settings or larger gym-type assemblies. Some of the speakers charge a fee, while others volunteer their time, Vaccaro said.
A highlight each year of both the council’s and students in West Feliciana, are the trips to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola with Miss Louisiana.
“The Miss Louisiana folks love us and love making that trip each year,” said Vaccaro. “Usually, by the time Miss Louisiana visits Angola in late April, she has become a seasoned speaker and relates to the ninth-graders in a very personal way. It’s a casual but intimate setting allowing her to bond with the students in a unique way. They open up, ask her things, and she shares her personal experiences with them. You can tell it’s a success by the tears in their eyes.”
Past speakers, other than Miss Louisiana, have included LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux and the Allureds, a husband and wife team who are the creators of Harvey Rabbit and Friends.
“Ivy found them years ago through Young Audiences of Louisiana’s Arts in Education program in New Orleans, and they are totally captivating,” said Vaccaro. “They are a must-see and will be here again Jan. 22.”
Providing support are the 20 board members, each with an alternate, and the volunteers from area churches, businesses, law enforcement agencies and prisons. Monthly and quarterly meetings are attended by the board, alternates and the volunteers.
“You can’t go wrong by having all those types of people on the board,” said Vaccaro. “We have a lot of great people who support us.”
Cutrer and Vaccaro acknowledge the support received from Sheriff J. Austin Daniel.
“You couldn’t ask for any better backing than him,” said Cutrer.
To show its appreciation, the council hosts a luncheon for its supporters and presents awards to those who have gone above and beyond. Honored this year were SADD President Destiny Wilson, a senior at West Feliciana High School; and Tony Plauche, of the Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Office, who cooked jambalaya for one of the council’s annual fundraisers.
Donations can be sent to: P.O. Box 2233, St. Francisville, LA, 70775. Contact Cutrer or Vaccaro at the Council, 5848 Commerce St. in St. Francisville, or call (225) 784-3107, (225) 721-0204 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.