Dallas is no stranger to the effects and dangers of underage drinking. Students and parents alike can share stories of high schoolers attending parties with parent-supplied alcohol, or the fear of students becoming addicted to an illegal substance. But Ali and Anna Garrett have devoted their time and influence to providing positive peer support and healthy options for students who are choosing to avoid alcohol and drug use. Ali is now a student at SMU, while Anna finishes high school at Highland Park.
Dallas Doing Good founder, Jan Osborn, sat down with Ali and Anna, along with their mother Carey, to talk about the campus organization her daughters founded.
Jan Osborn: When did you first have the idea to start a club focused on staying away from drugs and alcohol?
Ali Garrett: We had a family friend that was getting involved in the movement to help students make healthy choices around alcohol, and we were at home as a family trying to think of ways we could help. The friend told us that Mr. Sutterfield, the girls’ cross country coach at Highland Park High School, had started a roundtable to bring parents together who shared his concern about the culture around teenagers and alcohol as a rite-of-passage. My mom attended that meeting and heard that a group of boys had started a club called “True Grit” to change that culture and mentor the younger 8th grade boys, so Ali started asking about a similar club for the girls, called “Arrow.”
Jan Osborn: Tell us a little bit about growing up in Dallas and your family dynamic.
Anna Garrett: Our family has always been super close, even with my mom working and my dad being a pilot. One thing that I think has helped to facilitate this is the stable environment that was a priority for my parents. We grew up in the same home, same schools, and same church for our entire lives. The biggest influences for me have been my siblings Aaron and Ali – they have been great role models for me and help to shape my life in a positive way. They have carved a path for me and set an example, all while being my best friends. This is the same ideology I am incorporating into Arrow – creating bonds and providing examples of high schoolers that eighth graders can look up to.
Jan Osborn: Carey, how did you feel when your daughters decided to champion this cause?
Carey Garrett: I was really impressed that Ali had the courage to stand up and be willing to proclaim that she didn’t think drinking was necessary to have fun in high school. In our community, that means being a leader among not just your peers, but with adults too. I’ve been surprised by how many adults assume that all kids want to drink and will pave the way to make it easy. A lot of kids with good intentions not to drink often end up at parties where adults are offering alcohol and have arranged everything so that alcohol is available and “safety is ensured” by providing transportation accommodations, and chaperones in case of emergencies. Then the kids who didn’t plan to drink feel even more pressure.
I was also very relieved. When my kids were in elementary and middle school, one PTA meeting really encouraged me. The director of CARE Dallas spoke and brought four different high school students to speak to us about a pledge they had signed to not use alcohol and drugs in high school. I vividly remember those high school kids and what they said about how they handled the pressure to drink. Up until that PTA meeting I didn’t have a vision of how to do high school without drinking, because it was very prevalent in my high school when I was growing up in California.
When my kids were just entering fifth grade, for the first time I had the vision that you can fit in at Highland Park and not drink. When Ali showed a real interest in starting the “girl version” of the True Grit club, I was thrilled and relieved that she would likely get through her high school experience without alcohol. That was a huge moment, because the statistics show that the closer one gets to 21 before they start drinking, the chances of addiction goes down substantially.
I was more impressed, relieved, and thrilled that Anna was also excited about mentoring girls to enjoy high school without alcohol and drugs, and she wanted to lead Arrow as well. She was in the first eighth grade class that Arrow mentored. Over five years she has heard many speakers and spent time with older girls at meetings and events who were clearly having the time of their lives in high school without alcohol. I’m very thankful for the great people who have mentored her and that she wants to mentor others.
Jan Osborn: What kind of activities are involved with Arrow?
Anna Garrett: We have monthly meetings with the middle schoolers and bring in speakers, but the most important part is growing relationships with each of them. This year we will have a scavenger hunt, a holiday party, and a lake getaway.
Jan Osborn: What kind of impact do you think this club has made in your community?
Anna Garrett: Arrow, along with True Grit, has made a very positive influence in our community. It provides a place where high schoolers who don’t want to be involved in the party scene can belong and find others with similar values. It also challenges the “HP norm” that alcohol and drugs are just a part of school.
Jan Osborn: How many students are involved with Arrow?
Anna Garrett: I am co-president of Arrow this year, alongside Caroline S. She and I have seven other officers serving with us. Right now we are working to expand the number of eighth graders who are being mentored, but this year we were overwhelmed with the amount of high schoolers who joined – close to 120 girls!
Jan Osborn: Carey, what can students and parents do to follow in these footsteps?
Carey Garrett: Lots of people are isolated and don’t share when they are worried about their kids or themselves, and then they don’t ask for help. Had our family friend not shared what was going on with their student (that a few drinking experiments had gone very badly) we would have not talked about it or heard what Mr. Sutterfield was doing. So, I think many of us would be passionate and want to help if we knew what was going on behind closed doors. We need to get together in person, help each other, and get appropriate help. Parents need to go and hear all the great speakers at PTA meetings, lunch bunches, Parent Education Committee talks, and CARE Community Luncheons. Grab a few friends and go together. This community has so many free resources and amazing people who are ready and willing to help.
Jan Osborn: What are your favorite places in Dallas to spend time as a family?
Anna Garrett: My favorite place in Dallas is White Rock lake – whether I’m running around it during cross country, or biking, sailing, or having a picnic with my friends. As a family we love to eat dinner at Banditos. It is a place we always meet after being apart or out of town.
The student leadership from the Arrow and True Grit clubs will be honored with the Community Partner Award at the 34th Annual CARE Breakfast this November in recognition of their dedication to peer mentoring and beginning a culture shift away from underage drinking.
If you know someone who is Doing Good in Dallas, we’d love to hear about it! Share their story with us.