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Clean Break

If you were to ask any high school or college student what the highlight of their school year is, the answer is sure to be spring break. For many teens and young adults, this is a time to unwind from the rigors of their academic pursuits and simply let loose and blow off some steam.

 

And while the idea of spring break is to relax, unwind and have a little—OK, a lot—of fun, it’s also a time when many young people engage in risky behavior. According to a study at Wayne State University in 2007, students who vacationed with their friends during spring break dramatically increased their alcohol use.

Another recent study also found that 40 percent of women and 50 percent of men on spring break admitted to excessive use of alcohol and some reported being intoxicated every day during their spring break vacation. Additional statistics showed that men on spring break who consumed alcohol drank an average of 18 drinks a day and women drink 10 drinks per day.

These statistics come as no surprise to Asher Levine, founder of Clean Break, an nonprofit organization in Tennessee that coordinates sober-free spring break vacations for high school and college students.

“I wanted to create the alternative for kids who want to have fun on spring break, but without the drugs and alcohol that always seems to come with it,” he says.

Describing himself as a social drinker since the age of 15, Levine drank regularly and liked to party with his friends. But as he grew older and the realities of life began to make an impact on him, he turned to alcohol to help him deal, especially with a failing marriage.

“Things got really bad after my divorce,” says Levine. “I suddenly had all this forced freedom. I took advantage of the alcohol and it took me to places—bad places—I had never been before.”

With a background in coordinating professional sports camps, Levine had spent a lot of time working with young people, supporting and empowering them. In 2005, he decided to switch gears by going to work for a wilderness program in North Carolina, where he says, turned out to be more for himself than the kids.

“Whether they knew it or not, they were supporting me as much as I was supporting them,” he says.

In 2008, he went to work for a 12-step program in Nashville, where he eventually became an outreach coordinator for kids with substance abuse problems. That was when Levine met Ken Block, the lead singer of the rock band Sister Hazel, who himself had been sober for nearly 10 years.

“We were talking about teens and how common it is that spring break is the time many of them use drugs or alcohol for the first time,” Levine says. “With so many music artists in recovery themselves, we talked about how much sense it would make to organize a spring break program for teens that was drug and alcohol free. That was the night Clean Break was born.”

Three months later, Levine had secured sponsors and earned the support of community leaders to organize and promote Clean Break. With more than 3,000 fliers, he reached out to Nashville-area high school students about this unique new program that would give teens the opportunity to have a spring break free from the pressures to drink, do drugs and engage in risky behavior.

Since then, Levine has made it his mission to give young people the alternative to spring break. He travels to college campuses all over the country not only to promote Clean Break, but also to connect with sober students and empower them to create awareness programs on campus.

“There are a lot colleges out there putting together sober programs for students. They’re called collegiate recovery programs and can involve such things as sober clubs and sober dorms,” says Levine, whose outreach is making an impact with students.

Case in point: Leah Williams. The Clemson University student was in the process of trying to start a recovery support group on campus when Levine visited the school.

“Asher helped provide the means for our group to start,” says Williams, a recovering substance abuser herself. “We definitely saw eye to eye and both wanted to help as many people as possible.”

Currin Kozak—whose son Matt is working to promote Clean Break’s program in Destin, Fla.—says the key to keeping kids who are dealing with substance abuse problems is to have them surrounded by people with the same goals. “When [Matt] doesn’t, there are problems,” she says.

It’s this like-mindedness that keeps Clean Break growing. And with Levine’s partnerships with corporate sponsors and his relationships with such entertainers as Block; Jeffrey Steele, songwriter for Rascall Flats and Tim McGraw; and Jimmy Stafford from Train, he hopes to continue getting the word out there to young people who choose to live a sober life.

“We need to keep focusing on prevention and intervention,” Levine says. “We seem to be lacking that. We need to let kids out there know that we support them in their choice to live drug and alcohol free.”

Story // Michelle Jacoby

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