Image by Nate Plumley.
West Virginian Nate Plumley and his family have experienced firsthand the consequences that come with opioid misuse. That experience led Nate to become a 4-H Healthy Living Ambassador. These Ambassadors often help lead Health Rocks!®, a national 4-H program that equips young people ages 8 to 14 with the skills and confidence to make smart choices about alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. NIDA and 4-H have long worked together to give teens science-based facts and SHATTER THE MYTHS® about drugs during National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week® .
Nate is currently a student at West Virginia University (WVU). We spoke to him recently.
What made you want to become a 4-H Healthy Living Ambassador?
A main reason was that I realized my experiences might help prevent kids from engaging in bad behavior I’ve seen with my peers.
What did you do as an Ambassador?
I went to afterschool sites and taught Health Rocks!® I taught the kids about tobacco prevention and dealing with peer pressure. I liked to use creative teaching methods that the lesson plans have, like active play. I also helped to staff exhibit booths for events like WVU Day at the West Virginia Legislature and the State Fair of West Virginia.
I was lucky to get to go to the Healthy Lifestyles Summit in Washington, DC, with other Healthy Living Ambassadors to represent West Virginia 4-H. The classes there were very inspiring, informative, and not boring. These experiences built my resume, and I was selected to go to Ireland with a 4-H trip.
What accomplishments as an Ambassador are you most proud of?
We started the work with the Healthy Living Ambassadors as a pilot program. It’s been great to watch it grow over the years. It’s also fun to be a trainer now, helping younger teens get excited about teaching the Health Rocks!® program and making a difference.
Talk about some of the skills you gained.
I think the skills I gained most were teaching skills. I learned very quickly what worked and what didn’t. For instance, the kids really needed to be engaged in at least 20 minutes of activity before they could sit and listen and reflect. They were just like a ball of energy otherwise. I also learned the importance of being prepared for the lesson plan; you need to have your materials all at hand. Sometimes getting in contact with the adults to get started was hard. But they were always on board after they watched just one lesson.
You told us previously that you like to be open about sharing your family’s story when it serves a greater purpose. Do you believe this openness has made a difference for the students you’ve worked with?
It’s a balancing act. The only reason to share such personal stuff is to help others who might be in the same situation. I’m not looking for sympathy, so I’ve learned to be very matter of fact. I don’t like to overshare. I know I’ve been luckier than most kids in my circumstances, but I also believe it’s important in this epidemic for kids to know they are not alone and there are those of us who care and can listen. Everyone has a different story, and everyone gets to decide what and how much to share publicly.
What advice do you have for teens who want to help their peers and younger students in their community?
I think getting involved with 4-H or other youth programs is the way to go, because many of these programs are really great at giving teens a chance to help other students. For instance, 4-H’s Teens as Teachers program is a great model because it helps teens understand that kids can often relate to teens better than they do to adults.
Stigma can play a big role in preventing people from talking about problems with drugs. What can teens do to help fight the shame and stigma that are often connected to addiction?
This is a tough one. It’s cultural and will require a cultural shift that will only happen very slowly. Addiction will always exist in some form. People need to be educated about it being a mental health issue that we can talk about and learn where and how to get help.
What’s your next project?
Now that I’m at the university, I’ve decided to stay involved in healthy service projects such as restoring a walking/biking trail. Next summer, over my break I plan to do work study with a rural county that has a real need around health topics. There are so many kids suffering from effects of parental addiction, and it will be great to bring them programs like Health Rocks!®