The MINI S.T.A.R. (Students Teaching About Resistance) Retreat was held on Saturday, March 17th at St. John Lutheran Church, Celina. The theme was “Under the Sea.” 100 Mercer County 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders attended the event. The goal of this event was to provide the students with a bully-free, drug-free experience full of alternative activities to encourage them to be role models to their peers and community. The retreat also gave the students a chance to learn new skills, be themselves, and make new friends to support them in the difficult times! Under the direction of Amy Miller and Laura Sanford of Foundations Behavioral Health Services, this youth-led prevention event was led by 15 of the high school students from the Mercer County Youth to Youth (Y2Y) group, 10 8th grade “Co-STARs,” along with 15 additional adult volunteers.

Though icy weather delayed the retreat 2 hours, all involved still were able to experience the excitement of MINI S.T.A.R. The day began at 11:00 am with energizers led by the youth and staff volunteers introducing themselves to the attendees. Joyce Howell was the keynote speaker. She shared with them that the two things they always have control over are their efforts and attitude. By focusing on giving 100% effort with a positive attitude, they will get good results. Joyce grew up in Coldwater and raised 3 children with her husband Paul. She taught 8th grade language arts for 30 years total, 2 in Ada, OH, 8 in St. Henry and 20 in Coldwater. Joyce has been retired for 3 years and also currently serves on the DARE Boosters. She was an adult leader at S.T.A.R. for many years, beginning with the very first retreat held!

Mercer County Y2Y members performed a skit about not sacrificing their self-respect, happiness and success to be “popular” and liked at school. Each student was placed in a “family group” which is a closer-knit group led by high school youth with an adult supervisor. The groups met four times throughout the day to do team-building activities and discuss issues. Each family group was given a pre-picked topic, such as bullying, alcohol, heroin, social media, etc., and came up with a skit and performed them for the parents during closing ceremonies. The student participated in two “How To” sessions including cooking, science experiments, art, drama, sign language, and fitness. Each student could pick one personal growth session; social media safety, girls and boys focused empowerment, how to handle stress, how to deal with peer pressure, or leadership skills. The day ended at 5 pm, after parents/guardians were presented the “Let’s Talk” campaign and then the participants joined in for closing ceremonies, which featured a video presentation of the day and the family group skits.

The MINI S.T.A.R. Retreat is supported by Foundations Behavioral Health Services and funded by a grant from Midwest Electric Community Connection Fund, Inc. Other sponsors include McKirnan Brothers, Inc., Hot Brass Personal Defense, Mercer County DARE Boosters, Preferred Insurance Center, Reynolds and Reynolds, Celina Walmart, Romer’s Catering and Overdrive Entertainment, Celina Grand Lake FOE Women’s Auxiliary, WCSM Radio, and Stars and Stripes Graphix. We are very grateful to St. John Lutheran Church for hosting us this year and the Celina Kiwanis for stuffing the folders.

We also want to thank the adults who taught classes: Craig Hart (Social Media Safety), fitness Shaun Koester (Jazzercise) from Upstage Downtown and Amber Mott (Drum Fitness), Stetson Miller (DUDES), Tom Sanford (Things that Fly), Craig Muhlenkamp (Things that Fly and Leadership), Roberta Donovan (Dealing with Stress), Amy Miller (Cooking), Laura Sanford (Refusal Skills), Ashley Searight (Girls on the Rise), Jodi Pierstorff (Sign Language), Joan Roll (Art), Jodi Wenning (Drama/Public Speaking). Thanks to Craig Muhlenkamp and Craig Hart for providing technical assistance and equipment and Amy Miller for putting together the picture presentation.

Appreciation goes out to the guidance counselors, principals, and school secretaries for their efforts in recruiting students for the retreat and collecting applications, the media for advertising the retreat, and the community for supporting prevention efforts.

The MINI S.T.A.R. Retreat would not be a success without the support of the parents/guardians who allow their energetic students to attend, the awesome adult staff, and the talented and dedicated High School Mercer County Y2Y leaders and 8th grade Co-S.T.A.R.s including, Celina: Aleisha Mott, Destiny Flynn, Rayne Reisinger, Bella Schnell, Peyton Gilliland, Kaleb Fishbaugh, Nathan Olds; Coldwater: Anthony Kunk, Jordan Kline, Thomas Pax, Cameron Crowell; Ft. Recovery: Ashley Byram, Cameron Romer, Daniel Braun, Elena Evers, Owen Sheridan, Robby LeFevre, Chloe Sutton, Lyvia Kunk; Marion Local: Kendra Wendel; Parkway, Dakota Hays; St. Henry: Leah Roll, Courtney Clune, Kayla Wall, Rachel Speck. Adult staff- Mackenzie Schlepp, Jessica Scheer, Dan Jones, Julie Krieg, Roberta Donovan, Ashley Searight, Claire Hemmelgarn, Craig Hart, Craig Muhlenkamp, Skylar Howell, Kelli Albers, Jodi Wenning, Joan Roll, Becca Cotterman, Tom Sanford.

If you are interested in assisting with future prevention efforts or joining the Mercer County Prevention Coalition whose mission is “to improve the quality of lives of Mercer County residents by preventing the harmful consequences of substance use and abuse among youth, families, and the larger community,” please contact Amy Miller at 419-584-1000 or