Help With A Problem: “So scary it shouldn’t exist.”

cropped-parent-child.jpgToday’s adolescent hasn’t known a time when drugs were not a threat to the well-being of youth.  After attending the nonprofit CANDLE, Inc.’s Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program, a 12 year-old wrote a thank you to the volunteers for  “Helping us with a problem so scary it shouldn’t exist.” Youth attending Reality Tour are appreciative they learn clear measures to implement to stay safe. Because parents attend along with their child, both leave on the same page with the foundation for years of open discussion – a key element in prevention.

CANDLE, Inc. is just wrapping up 15 years of presenting Reality Tour to families to help them safely navigate today’s environment. The program started in 2003 in Butler County, where a third site has opened in Cranberry Township aided by the Arconic and Pittsburgh Foundations. The community-based program has spread to envelope eighteen communities in Pennsylvania and it is replicated in seven other states.  Maryland just came on board with one site and Wisconsin will open three Reality Tour sites in 2019. Other states include California (4 sites), Arizona, New York, Delaware (2 sites) and Michigan.

The nonprofit’s approach to prevention is grounded in research by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy and is dedicated to innovative, contemporary prevention measures. Reality Tour developer Norma Norris explains, “Prevention programs must be engaging and up to date to appeal to the masses. Communities need to always have prevention coming up on their calendar.”  Reality Tour is proving to be the most popular family prevention program in the state.  Parents are eager to attend. The four sites managed by CANDLE, Inc. received over  450 registrations in the past two months.

Innovation for 2018 includes a pilot program to deter teen vaping. Norris states that, “Vaping is marketed to our youth with devices made to look like a usb drive. The candy flavored cartridges contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Through sponsors we are able to provide free nicotine test strips to parents to help deter use.”  Norris went on to describe vaping in middle schools as so rampant that a principal opened a drawer full of confiscated devices to illustrate the problem.

CANDLE, Inc. distinguished itself in the national nonprofit arena in 2018. GuideStar just awarded their highest ‘Platinum’status to the agency for transparency. Only 1% of nonprofits attain this designation.  The Great Nonprofits organization awarded their ‘2018 Top Rated Nonprofit’ badge to CANDLE, Inc. in recognition of their positive program reviews. This is the agency’s sixth year in a row to receive the Top Rated award.

 The nonprofit is gearing up for #GivingTuesday on November 27th. Interns from Clarion and Slippery Rock University are assisting with CANDLE, Inc.’s campaign on social media. Tax deductible donations can be made online at  Registration is also online for all Reality Tour sites.



Disrupting to Address the Gap in Drug Prevention

I am pleased to be a presenter at the Federal Employees Opioid Addiction Training on June 20th in Pittsburgh to inform on the Reality Tour Parent/Child Drug Prevention Program.  So often the prevention aspect is overlooked on this topic. Thanks to Tamara Ivosevic Perconte, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Federal Executive Board for extending the invitation after hearing our introduction at the FBI’s Heroin Outreach Prevention & Education meeting.

The gap in prevention is broad and is not going to close anytime soon. Has it seemed odd to you that while we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic and substance abuse epidemic in general – there’s no education offered for the masses to provide avoidance skills and coping measures?

It’s a Catch-22 largely created by researchers who have ‘concretely’ developed what works – except that it doesn’t.  Most accepted research is conducted at universities. Typically the interventions developed are for small numbers of people who can be easily tracked for a long period of time. That is how decades of robust but sometimes misleading, outcomes can be achieved. While this method is proof of what works to gain favorable outcomes, programs have failed to translate into prevention with any impact for the masses.

Consider that in Pennsylvania the state’s approved approach for family drug prevention is limited to a program that is 30 years old, requires parent and child to attend 7 weekly sessions and isn’t focused on drug use. Add the fact that it is available to just 15 families in 11 locations at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars for each location. To include the 1.1 million middle school families in the state and apply an average pro rata share of the funds now being spent – we would owe each family about $1500 in drug prevention education!

In developing a program to reach the masses (over 35k in Pennsylvania) and enduring the research necessary to have that program, Reality Tour, be recognized by the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, Reality Tour disrupted what is ‘supposed to work’ and suddenly thousands of families were being educated on coping skills and youth’s perception of risk and harm increased toward drugs. (Interestingly the $15,000 spent on getting to evidence-based status expired quickly as new requirements were imposed within less than a year. The price tag is about $60-$70,000 to fulfill the required survey of people who didn’t attend the program.).

While Reality Tour is15 years old, it is updated every two years to keep current with drug trends. Replications are spread among 6 states and Canada. The synergy of educating parent and child together has not been studied in prevention but it has an obvious appeal to the general public as demonstrated by thousands of families attending. As one researcher stated, the best programs are the ones reaching the greatest number of people.

It would be beneficial to all to consider human behavior along with contemporary drug trends and avoid rigid rules predicated on small captive audience responses tied to an era before the internet and cell phones.



Excuse me. Your expiration date is showing.

Ready, set, evaluate!  If only it was that simple to follow the science.  It’s not like you can go to Angie’s List and hire a researcher for prevention programs.  You have to partner with a university and it would be ever so much better if you had a boatload of money before you made an inquiry.

Nevertheless, back in 2007 all the planets aligned and Reality Tour was evaluated by a university professor paid for by a generous grant. However 2007 would be the last year that grantmakers were looking to fund research. The tide shifted with the 2008 economy and research wasn’t anyone’s funding priority.

Our 2007 evaluation granted Reality Tour a listing on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices – a SAMHSA inspired tool for those searching for programs to implement. The applause was very short-lived because SAMHSA changed the qualifying standards at just about the same time we were accepted.

Yes, our prized $15K research study had deteriorated like that fuzzy-frosted, moss-colored tupperware container sitting in the nether regions of a refrigerator – EXPIRED!  There simply was no shelf life.

Not giving up, we received a NECAPT Service to Science award in 2008 to prepare our study instrument to meet the new standard – a control study.  Trouble was we couldn’t attract the funds to pay a researcher to conduct the new magic bullet in NREPP research standards.

To clarify – this type of evaluation requires persons who did not attend your prevention program to be surveyed and their answers weighed against those who did attend.  The control negates the fact that it could be something in the water that has parents monitoring their children and discussing drugs and alcohol.  To be fair, the control study comparisons actually have great interest to me but is it the best use of resources?  Does evidence-based fever deter innovation?  Does it keep prevention from reaching the masses in the midst of an epidemic?  Does the tie-in to ‘what has gone before’ really work in a game-changing epidemic? Does it pit researchers with programs against newbies entering the realm of prevention?

Well, we had a mountain to climb for sure but our misfortune was cause for celebration. Well, to clarify Reality Tour wasn’t celebrating.  It turns out that we aren’t all in this together. Our Achilles Heel was shined and polished and a gleeful spotlight was pointed in our direction as soon as those standards changed.  Some experts view our volunteer-driven prevention model as alarming. Thankfully the judges, mayors, Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs etc. that have presented Reality Tour for years don’t feel that way-neither do 40,000+ PA residents who have attended.

Thankfully there’s a new opportunity. It was during a convalescence this past December that I had some leisure time and could actually respond to a LinkedIn connection request from a professor. Usually I mindlessly hit the ‘accept’ button. (That is the exact reason I have 700+ connections -all BFF’s lol)  This LinkedIn connection however, resulted in an actual phone conversation and a like-minded approach to prevention was soon apparent.

By January 2017, I was meeting with our research professor who was excited about exploring Reality Tour’s parent/child prevention inner-workings and outcomes – excited because it matters.  He too feels parent/child prevention is the missing link.  The term journal worthy was interjected.  I will be happy with the data neatly mined and ready for submission.

By March 2017, I had updated Reality Tour, updated the study instrument and engaged our most dynamic school partner (with 540 youth in 6th grade ) to join in the study. There is a possibility of adding more schools that have been long time partners.

If there’s enough compressed time left our HAZMAT team may just find some prevention penicillin.



Assuming Too Much in Drug Epidemic


We assume that youth are confident they will remain drug-free after making a promise to do so…

Whether the promise was personal or made in a public setting via an activity, youth in middle school are ready to make this commitment. But, just ask them if they think keeping that promise  could be difficult. See how many hands go up.  Middle school students know too many older youth who were saying all the right things at their age and later chose the path to drugs or alcohol.  It must be frightening for pre-teens to wonder what mysterious circumstance awaits that could change their mind and cost them everything.

We assume parents already know the risks…

After almost 14 years of presenting Reality Tour to an audience of parents with their children, each exit survey reveals the information is new to parents. Parents linger after the program to express their surprise at the wide array of drugs and the young age of youth experimenting.  They always ask the same thing, “Why aren’t we being told about this?” Parents are our most powerful prevention tool…but not until they know what they are talking about.

We assume all schools want parents to be informed…

While that is true in many cases and we are fortunate to partner with progressive proactive school districts, schools often feel they have a ‘reputation’ to consider. If schools are adamantly promoting drug prevention some feel it is the same as admitting their district has a drug problem.  I recall in the early years of Reality Tour – a phone call from a prominent realtor suggesting that I stop the program because making such a fuss about drug prevention and talking about overdoses will mean no one will want to move here.  I have seen a school superindentdent swear ‘our school doesn’t have a drug problem – amplified by the fact he had just seen girls playing high school soccer and “They couldn’t race around on the field with such energy if they were on drugs”. That was his proof for 3,000 students in the midst of a local drug epidemic.

We assume evidence-based mean a program is effective….

Evidence-based proof is what prevention dollars require at the federal and state level.  These heavily researched programs have all the numbers to prove on paper they work. (Torture the numbers long enough and they will tell you anything.)  Problem is almost none of these programs are universal – meaning they won’t educate the general public – the masses.  Almost none include parents.  Almost all are designed for small contained groups because it is easier to collect data and maintain a loyalty to the facilitator – thereby improving an inflated positive longitudinal response. That is why one 30 year old program, that doesn’t talk about drugs, can corner the state’s family drug prevention dollars yet only reach 15 families in 12 Pennsylvania locations AND brag about it.  Our numbers of youth addicted are going up while the data swears they ‘should be’ going down.  Before dedicating tax dollors, we need the research yes but also need to start asking, “How many people will this program reach?”

We assume we’re all in this together…

Some still think the person who overdoses and even dies ‘got what they deserve’. This view is not expressed outright as much as in years past, but I have had people in power express exactly that lack of caring and compassion. Pair that  with the disregard for the welfare of the public at large by not providing accessible family-based prevention education in the face of an epidemic and it is no wonder we are stuck in a quicksand of inertia. A blind eye has been turned to the need for prevention that could have addressed and averted the exponential rebound we will soon experience after losing a generation to drugs and alcohol. For a grand finale,  add the strong-arm tactics of PA’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to try to squash the state’s most popular grassroots parent/child prevention effort (Reality Tour) that has educated over 50,000 PA residents.

PA Needs Prevention for All Families



Recent points were  raised with PA’s DDAP on the lack of prevention for families in the general public.  CANDLE is suggesting the state must broaden their scope. Presently only 12 PA communities receive the state’s  preferred family prevention 7 week program.  Only 15 families attend at a time and the program does not talk about drugs. The sessions start with a meal, followed by a video and then discussion. Many families do not attend all 7 sessions – 50% attendance is considered acceptable. (So which sessions really work?). Published costs per person show $2,000 each.

Recently, a researcher with some interest in Reality Tour suggested that nothing has been developed in universal prevention under the duress of an epidemic and that the ‘status quo’ criteria and programs of prior eras should not be imposed or assumed to be as effective. The increasing availability of drugs  changes everything. It was revealed that researchers prefer small contained groups for ease of data collection – making it unlikely that new programs are in the works for the general public.

In a conversation with Dr. Dennis Embry, he brought up the little known fact that nothing in prevention was as successful as the PRIDE Graph Parent Movement and the impact on marijuana use. The Parent Movement is rarely mentioned in the history of prevention research and certainly not modeled in prevention development at the university level.  

An advisor to CANDLE spoke with Dr. Thomas J. “Buddy” Gleaton the originator of the Parent Movement Graphic who noted that the PRIDE Parent Movement ended in 1992 when federal funding of the program ended.  The graph link provided shows the immediate upswing in marijuana use after the end of funding. Dr. Gleaton kindly furnished updates.

Dr. Embry introduced another point to consider: The most researched prevention program – when reaching few people from a total population- is not as effective as a lesser researched program when that program reaches large numbers of people in a given population.  PA has 1.1 million families with middle school age children.

Along those lines Public Health Law and Ethics is a topic of new interest. A consideration is that the concern is for the health of populations not individuals. 

We remain hopeful that PA will no longer withhold vital prevention information from 1.1 million+ parents/children and their children.  CANDLE’s Reality Tour has reached  35,000 in PA – all who attended on their own because they thought it was important. The numbers would be far lower if parents hadn’t also urged friends and family to attend. What has developed is a grassroots prevention movement – a movement away from the status quo.  Communities no longer have to wait for the best program to be ‘bestowed’ on them with a hefty price tag.  Reality Tour empowers communities to ‘take care of their own’.



Family Fun Day at Fun Fore All!

CANDLE, Inc. is proud to host their annual Reality Tour Family Fun Day Fundraiser at Fun Fore All, located on 8 Progress Avenue, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066 , Saturday, May 14, 2016 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Our goal this year is to raise enough funds to continue to scholarship families on the free/reduced lunch program into Reality Tour. We waive the $5 per person fee for these families! We strongly believe that family activities are drug prevention so come join the fun and participate in games, win prizes and much more!

Families receive SUPER savings at Fun Fore All that day and ALL SUMMER LONG!

$15 Two-hour Fun Passe coupons will be distributed to ALL Families. Saving you $8.95! This means unlimited use of mini-golf, go-carts, kiddie rides, bumper boats batting cages, ballocity as well as other attractions for two hours. Click here to download savings!


Kids wearing their Reality Tour ‘I Promise’ T-shirts get to mini-golf for FREE all summer long at Fun Fore ALL. T-shirts are on sale for $10 each! Limited time only while supplies last! ORDER one today: 724-679-6612

flyer 2


We’re currently holding a silent online auction, with chances to win awesome prizes such as a Fun Fore All Birthday Party, a Family Bowlaway Birthday Party Certificate, a Butler YMCA 3 month Family Membership, and an exclusive spa package courtesy of Salon Vivace in Treesdale! Now that’s a perfect treat for mom! Place your bid today!


Fun Fore All just opened its new water gun game attraction.  In celebration of this, we will be holding a water gun tournament for the chance to win fabulous prizes.  The first prize winner will win $100 Fun Card for Fun Fore All, the second place winner will win a Reality Tour t-shirt (free summer of golf) and a certificate for 4 to attend Reality tour and third place will win a Reality Tour wristband and a surprise gift card! Come find out if you have what it takes to win!



A special shoutout and a BIG THANKS to our Premier Pponsor this year Diehl Toyota in Butler! Your generous contribution is helping us to educate more families in our community!


Fun Fore All

Robinson Fans

Deep Well Services

Promotions with Personality

D.B. Root & Company

Weber Insurance

A Kids Place Drop-In Child Care

Butler County Family YMCA

Salon Vivace in Treesdale

Cranberry Cinemas

Hines Ward Table 86 & Vines

Family Bowlaway Fun Center

THANK YOU ALL for helping us with our mission to prevent drug abuse!

Want to donate or be a sponsor? It’s not too late!  Call 724-831-8234 or email for more details. We look forward to seeing you at our event!

Please Show Your Support!

Dear Pennsylvania Reality Tour Directors & Volunteers,

Please take a minute to advocate for prevention for families in Pennsylvania via the Governor’s Office. Please let our Governor know of your Reality Tour’s reach and success.

Consider asking the Governor to investigate recent PA DDAP actions taken against Reality Tour – the most popular prevention program in the state for parents and children.  DDAP’s inaccurate ‘scare tactics’ brand for Reality Tour was emailed all over the state, harming Reality Tour and disrespecting hundreds of volunteer hours. This brand by DDAP took away all state funds associated with our grassroots prevention effort.

Ask for MORE parent/child programs for the general public.  Indicate that DDAP’s strategy for families reaches just 15 families at a time in only 12 PA communities. This will not stop an epidemic.  But above all – share the success of your Reality Tour!

Here is the link so you can send an email  Governor Wolf

Keep this contact handy and share your success after every program and ask for the best for PA families. It is wrong to withhold vital information from families.

We encourage all Reality Tours everywhere to share your event reports, best practices and feedback from attendees with your states/provinces governor and all your local representatives! Invite them all to attend one of your upcoming Reality Tours.