Photo Mar 29 2023 2 08 08 PM

Coach Pete and students learn the basics of baseball, team building, and sportsmanship.

DEAEF Partners with Operation Engage to Provide a Spring Break Program for Students in Michigan

In 2020, the DEAEF Youth Program was selected as a community partner for DEA Operation Engage which is a national initiative piloted in eleven metropolitan areas by the DEA. Operation Engage is a comprehensive community-level approach to address the drug epidemic through prevention strategies, facilitating conversations, and collaborating with local partners.

Through Operation Engage, the DEAEF was recently asked to hold a three-day Healthy Lifestyle program in Michigan over spring break for the youth in Athens and Kalamazoo. In Athens, the DEAEF worked with Jennifer Bittner, School Counselor at East Leroy Elementary School, to provide students the opportunity to attend a fun-filled program each morning. Then in the afternoon, the DEAEF collaborated with a dance studio in Kalamazoo called Move with Joy to offer this program to the local community.

“This spring break program teaches kids focus and discipline and provides them the opportunity to express their emotions in a healthy way through art, movement, and education.”

Jennifer Bittner, School Counselor
DEA Agent Brian McNeal conducts an interactive demonstration.
DEA Agent Brian McNeal conducts an interactive demonstration.

To kick off the program, Coach Pete Harbolick, DEAEF Youth Baseball Program Manager, and Meredith Liepelt, DEAEF Special Projects Consultant, spoke about the DEAEF’s mission along with its partnership with the DEA.

DEA Agent Brian McNeal then captivated the students by conducting an interactive demonstration where he used a variety sodas, iced coffee, and other beverages, pretending that each was a chemical found in vapes. After combining all the “chemicals” into a cup, he drank it as the kids gasped in disgust! He then asked, “If someone asks you to try vaping, will you have this same reaction?” And of course, the kids agreed wholeheartedly!

“The kids were completely captivated by Agent McNeal’s presentation,” said Liepelt. “They were grossed out by the beverage concoction and agreed that they would never put anything that disgusting or harmful in their bodies. It was quite powerful.”

During the three days of activities, Coach Pete led three days of sports drills and practice where the students learned the basics of baseball, team building, and sportsmanship, culminating in playing an actual game by day three. While conducting these activities, Coach Pete spoke about the importance of staying healthy and positive along with being drug free.

“Working with the young athletes of the DEAEF program is special because you really see teamwork come together,” said Coach Pete.

Coach Pete practices baseball skills Coach Pete practices baseball skills Coach Pete practices baseball hitting skills

“There are different levels of baseball or softball knowledge whenever meeting a new group, and there is always compassion in helping get everyone on the same playing field. Seeing lightbulbs go off on skills development or through chatting about career ambitions are among my most treasured moments.”

Pete Harbolick, DEAEF Youth Baseball Program Manager, Coach
Students make art with red ribbons and art supplies.

Liepelt led multiple sessions throughout the week called How to Reach Your Future Goals, where she took the students through a variety of exercises, ice breakers, and other games and activities to address the importance of building a strong community, a strong sense of self, goal setting, and making good decisions to reach their goals. The students learned about the Red Ribbon Pledge, took the pledge, and made art projects including red ribbons, DEAEF and DEA stickers, and other art supplies. During one session, students watched two short videos created by DEAEF partner Addiction Policy Forum, which covered topics including refusal skills and keeping your brain healthy as you grow up. Students then did a role-play activity where they practiced refusal skills with Coach Pete.

Joy Morris-Burton, owner of Move with Joy in Kalamazoo, conducted a hip hop and yoga session for students in the Kalamazoo community. Coach Pete, Agent McNeal, and Meredith also took the classes so the kids could see how invested they are in their success.

“We loved this program and would jump at the chance to do it again,” said Morris-Burton.

Joy Morris-Burton with students during a yoga session.
Joy Morris-Burton with students during a yoga session.

Students enjoyed the program and were provided with a variety of goodies from the DEAEF and DEA including t-shirts, baseballs, basketballs, stickers, cinch sacks, tennis balls, and backpacks.

Student feedback from the program was positive, with one of the students saying, “I like how the people are nice and I hope they do this every year,” and another saying, “I really want them to come back here.”

The DEAEF is currently looking into opportunities to continue programming in these areas.

Updated May 31, 2023

Partnerships, YBP