Manatee County teens who don’t smoke cigarettes or E-cigs, chew tobacco, drink alcohol or take other drugs may soon be rewarded for their life choices.
On Sept. 21, Manatee will start the eighth area chapter of D-Fy, which stands for Drug Free Youth.
D-Fy is an initiative for students in ninth through 12th grades, started six years ago in North Port, that rewards this group of teens for making the choice to be drug free with exclusive discounts at businesses and other benefits, said Merab-Michal Favorite, a spokeswoman with Drug Free Manatee, the driving force behind bringing D-Fy to Manatee County.
A membership drive for D-Fy’s first chapter is 3-5 p.m. Sept. 21 at Bradenton Women’s Club, 1705 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, Favorite said.
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Manatee students who wish to join will be drug tested at the Bradenton Women’s Club on that day, Favorite added.
“D-Fy is not really a club,” Favorite said. “It’s really an initiative. You could call it a loose organization of peers who share the commitment to make positive choices and live a healthy, drug-free life.”
“D-Fy is an organization that connects with students who want to be drug-free,” said Superintendent Diana Greene of the School District of Manatee. “They agree to be drug tested and they make the vow they are going to live a drug-free life and they are going to move in a positive direction.”
Besides the discounts at Manatee businesses, Manatee D-Fy is offering D-Fy members special events and, it is hoped, hiring preferences, internships, apprenticeships and scholarships, Favorite said.
“Open events will held throughout the year for Manatee D-Fy members including Saturday Night Rocks, which is held the last Saturday of every month at the Bradenton Woman’s Club and features artists from the Del Couch Music Education Foundation,” Favorite said.
Any high-school-age child can attend these events, but only D-Fy members receive free admission, Favorite added.
Joining D-Fy is free, Favorite said.
Applicants must be in grades nine through 12 and must complete a membership application at sign-up events, Favorite said.
The application includes the student’s commitment to be alcohol, tobacco, E-cigarette and drug free.
“Once the application is validated, members receive a photo ID card,” Favorite said. “This card allows them to gain entrance at member-only events and receive discounts at local businesses and retailers.”
“Now we can reward our kids for making good choices,” Favorite said last week.
Although Manatee’s D-Fy doesn’t start until Sept. 21, there are roughly eight businesses already signed up to offer discounts.
It wasn’t a hassle, the tests were fast and easy. The only reason anyone would complain about taking a drug test would be because they are afraid they might fail it.
Dione Ramos, former D-Fy member from North Port
Found on drugfreemanatee.org along with the discounts they are offering, they include Crunch Gym, Eaton Elite Fitness and Performance, GUTI Beauty and Wellness Academy, Jurassic Martial Arts and Fitness, Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt, Popi’s Place restaurants and Tree Umph! Adventure Course, Favorite said.
Drug Free Youth rocketed in North Port
Six years ago, North Port resident Monica Becket and a few other community members heard that some North Port teens were frustrated because they were not being recognized for making positive choices and doing positive things.
“Everyone was talking about the kids getting into trouble and they were getting the publicity before kids doing the right thing,” said Laurie File. “The kids were telling Monica, ‘No one seems to care that we don’t do drugs.’ Monica thought those kids who were leading healthy lifestyles should be recognized. That’s how D-Fy came about.”
As of last week, North Port’s D-Fy organization had 3,290 teen members, said File, who is the executive director of North Port’s D-Fy and on the staff of First Step in Sarasota, a substance abuse prevention and counseling agency.
“We were hoping to get maybe 50 kids,” File said. “We never expected it to grow into the phenomenon that it has.”
Becket and others sat down with the kids and asked them what they would like to see as a reward for their good choices. They ended up creating things like a Guitar Hero Party or a Mystery Theater event that only D-Fy kids could get in to.
She got North Port businesses to offer discounts to North Port teens who were living free of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, including E-cigarettes. The way they set the program up, the teens agreed to be drug tested periodically and if they passed, they got to carry a D-Fy card on a lanyard that got them discounts at fitness gyms, restaurants and other locales.
Although North Port is the biggest chapter in the region, the one-year-old Sarasota chapter has roughly 400 members and Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Englewood also have one-year-old chapters which are growing, File said. There are also chapters in Englewood and DeSoto County.
The birth of Manatee’s D-Fy chapter can be credited to a push from Drug Free Manatee director Sharon Kramer, associate director Rita Chamberlain and staffers Ally Bergmann and Favorite.
But it was Greene, Superintendent of the School District of Manatee, who pushed the project over the top, Favorite said.
“We met with her and she had a dream for a health symposium where D-Fy would be launched,” Favorite said.
Greene’s dream was to have an inaugural event called Manatee Freshman Focus where Drug Free Manatee will introduce D-Fy, Favorite said.
Freshman Focus is 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
At Freshman Focus, 3,200 Manatee freshman will be bused in from their high schools, Green said.
“We are really trying to build their confidence to be strong individuals who feel strong in their character and comfortable in their own skin,” Green said.
There will be no drug-testing at the symposium, Favorite said.
“Students can pre-register at the symposium for the first Manatee D-Fy membership drive which will be on Sept. 21,” Favorite said
At the symposium, the freshman will learn about Manatee’s D-Fy from nationally known motivational speaker Jessie Funk, whom Drug Free Manatee hired to introduce the program, Favorite said.
“Jessie is a rock star herself as well as a speaker,” Favorite said. “We did a lot of research online and found her and hired her.”
North Port teen talks about D-Fy
Dione Ramos is now a State College of Florida student but he was in North Port’s D-Fy when he attended Imagine School of North Port.
“I decided to join D-Fy because I understood the importance of fighting drug abuse in the school setting,” Ramos said. “I have seen what drug abuse can do to my friends and I knew that the only way to inform people about the effects of drugs was to join D-Fy.”
Ramos said he met new friends through D-Fy and learned more about the dangers of drug abuse.
Friends not in the chapter were curious, he said.
The discounts he liked the most were for food, he said.
“The movie discount was great, too,” he said. “Those discounts really help motivate students to join D-Fy.”
During his two years in D-Fy, Ramos said he was notified to go for a drug test five times to make sure he was still drug-free.
“It wasn’t a hassle, the tests were fast and easy,” Ramos said. “The only reason anyone would complain about taking a drug test would be because they are afraid they might fail it.”
Asked what he would tell kids in Manatee, Ramos said: “This is a necessary club that all communities should have. The events are always fun. The positive impact D-Fy makes on the community is immeasurable.”
Manatee youth who would would like more information are asked to call Favorite at 941-748-4501, ext. 3010 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manatee D-Fy’s first membership registration and drug testing
- 3-5 p.m. Sept. 21 at The Bradenton Women’s Club, 1705 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton