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Be Awesome

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Harriet Phelps
Harriet Phelps

By Dr Harriet A. Phelps
Doctorate of Psychology, retired
Marriage and Family Specialty

Happy New Year!  Many of us have already begun procrastinate making those New Year’s resolutions. As we look back we know that we have not managed to complete last year’s, remembering with disgust.

Resolution means simply to resolve. The tradition started 4,000 years ago with the Babylonians, the first to record celebrations honoring the coming New Year.  The festival was held in March and known as Akitu which celebrated the new King or reaffirmed loyalty to the current one. Celebrations consisted of promises to pay debt or the return of borrowed objects. If word was kept the King bestowed favor or not.

Julius Caesar reformed the calendar to begin Jan. 1 circa 46 B.C. It was a time to reflect back on the previous year or forward to the New Year. It was early Christians that began the traditions to think about past mistakes and resolve to do better in the future.  Past traditions set the practice of making promises to keep only to ourselves and then focus on self improvement.

Research indicates approximately 45% of Americans say they make them but only 8% are successful in achieving the goals set. So why do we use a tradition that brings discouragement and lowers our self confidence? I personally have resolved not to set resolutions and work on the changes I need to make for health and wellness. I have resolved that if I was going to make a change then I would not have to confront the same thing next year. So, how do we make those changes?

1. Goal setting. Take a quiet moment to reflect what it is that you would really like to accomplish.  It is the first step of problem resolution.  Identify the          problem honestly by taking a personal inventory.  his is reflective not critical.  Guilt is only good for two seconds and a change.  Most experiences, not failure, of goal setting are not specific enough or clearly understood.  Ask where the goals are coming from. Why is this goal pertinent to me? How does achieving this goal influencing me?  Choose to do just one thing.

  1. Tailor tasks that align with who you are and where you wish to be. There are no mistakes or failures only learning experiences. Change causes fear for all of us.  Look ahead only one day at a time. The greatest lesson we could learn is,” I’ll not do that again” then move on.
  2. Feelings of discouragement. Do not give up. Go back to number one and revisit the why.  We become impatient when we do not see signs of progress.  Think about how you will know.  It may not be the number of pounds lost but the eating changes that are healthier.
  3. You may not be ready to make this particular change. Consider what, when, where, and why. You may need to research what could help you accomplish what you want or seek out someone for support. Approve that you are not ready for the task and choose another to work on and do not stress.

Habits are hard to break.  A habit is a behavior that we have done repeatedly and has become unconscious.  We do something automatically no longer thinking about how or why.  When we have not sufficiently repeated a behavior enough we will fall back on old patterns.  In the 60’s the 21/90 rule was established.  Mainly, it takes 21 days to change a habit by repetition and 90 to begin doing it automatically.  Studies estimate it is more like 66 days and up to six months.  Learning a new behavior is an individual experience and takes repetition and practice.  Time and place are key, reminders help, and find the cue that triggers old behaviors.

Remember to do just one thing.  Happy New Year!

As always, be awesome.

Harriet Phelps is a volunteer with the Be Awesome Youth Coalition.


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Harriet Phelps
Harriet Phelps

By Dr. Harriet Phelps

Holiday planning, shopping and preparing are very exhausting. When the family budget does not stretch to meet your needs, stress can build. Now is the time to call a family meeting, ask some questions, and make plans that reduce some stressors.

Begin with the parents having the first discussion. Determine what the next holiday is and how to meet your family needs to celebrate. Ask each other what is important about this time together. Traditions are an important part of family life. It honors the family values and special cultural meaning. This year may be the year to establish your family traditions. For example, I carried over from my childhood finding an apple and orange in my sock under the tree. One of my sons remembered the apple and orange in his sock. You are making memories.

Next, ask your kids what they like, dislike and want to include in the celebrations. Keeping the time to about 15 minutes, decide what fits your time and budget. Delegate chores to each family member that are age-appropriate. Planning, discussing and implementing are great skills to teach.

Here are some ideas for fun traditions:

Turkey notes: A short, silly rhyme made up for each family member and guest. The rhymes are three to four lines and the main theme is “Turkey.” Each rhyme is folded and placed next to each place setting for the holiday meal. When the time is right each guest opens their note and reads aloud to the group. The sillier the better. Sit back and enjoy the laugh. Or tell each person at the table what you are thankful for about them.

Ideas: Turkey hobble, Turkey gobble, Eat too much and you will wobble!

Turkey crown, Turkey dress, Disney should make you their next Princess.

You get it.

Coupons: When money is tight giving does not cost money but time. Nothing is more precious than giving a few minutes of our time. At Christmas, make coupons to give to each person. Good for one hug, 30 minutes of baseball practice, one bedtime story, taking out the trash without grumbling.

Or get out the crayons and paper and make ornaments for the tree or walls, draw the child’s spread-out hand to create a turkey or draw a picture about the holiday. Be sure to write the child’s name and date. I still smile when I come across these drawings in my holiday box from my sons.

Parents, it doesn’t have to be bought or big to be the best.

As always, be awesome.

Dr. Harriet Phelps is a volunteer at Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.


Maricopa Teen Hall, a new expo tailored for teens and those raising teens, is scheduled for Oct. 19, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at City Hall.

To attend, RSVP at MaricopaTeenHall.com.

The free event will include lunch and fun activities.

It will be a town-hall-style event, but without the politics. Topics will range from how to get a job to building healthy relationships. Exhibitor space is available.

The planning committee includes representatives from Be Awesome Youth Coalition, InMaricopa and the City of Maricopa, with Be Awesome Director Priscilla Behnke and Councilmember Nancy Smith.

Maricopa Teen Hall encourages discussion about Internet safety, mental health, drugs and alcohol education, human trafficking and more. It is a forum for teens and their parents or guardians to share their knowledge and experience while learning valuable information.

“Life is challenging for teens and their parents,” Be Awesome’s Behnke said. “We are excited to bring resources to Maricopa families and fulfill our mission of creating confident, connected and successful youth.”

Be Awesome is a local nonprofit charged with developing confident, connected and successful youth. InMaricopa believes in uniting the community and one of its core values is to create prosperity for our clients and community. Both organizations join Councilmember Nancy Smith in a dedication to Maricopa’s successful future through its youth.

To attend, RSVP at MaricopaTeenHall.com.

There are partnership, sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities available. Any donations/sponsorship revenue that exceeds cost of producing the event will be earmarked for teen scholarships. Contact Behnke at 520-428-7750 or PBehnke@BeAwesomeYouth.life.

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Danielle Heinrich


By Danielle Heinrich

As a tween going into middle school, I know there will be a lot of peer pressure that could keep me from my goals. My goals are to be successful in school so that my dreams aren’t limited.

I know there are going to be people who want me to do other stuff with them, like skipping class, drinking alcohol, using drugs and hanging out with boys when I should be in class studying hard and working toward my goals. As a tween, I still don’t know what my career will look like, but I know I want to have a great job that I will look forward to going to every morning.

I encourage you to talk with your tweens and teens about the peer pressure they will face this school year. Here are five ways they can avoid the stuff that will hurt them.

  1. Walk away.

When your teen is at a party or get-together with friends, if they see drugs or alcohol, tell them to just leave the party. That way they aren’t included in what they shouldn’t be doing, because they could get in serious trouble.

  1. Say “no” and repeat if they keep pushing.

When someone is trying to push your teen into drinking alcohol or using drugs, tell them to say no over and over until they stop asking the question, and they will leave your teen alone, so they can fulfill their dreams.

  1. Make an excuse.

When your child makes an excuse at home, tell them to do the same thing at parties when someone is trying to make them use drugs or alcohol, because they can do so many other things in their life.

  1. Encourage your child to make other friends.

Sometimes, we just don’t hang out with the right people. If their friend is asking them if they want some weed, tell your child to find better friends.

  1. Ignore it.

If your teen is asked to use alcohol or drugs, tell them to just ignore the person talking and pretend they didn’t hear them.

I haven’t had to use these strategies yet, but I know I will, and my sister knows they work. She knows her dreams of going to culinary school are worth more than drugs and alcohol, so make sure you talk to your teen about the effects peer pressure can have on their dreams.

Danielle Heinrich, 11, is a sixth grader at Maricopa Wells Middle School.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

Priscilla Behnke.

This July is the third season of “Stranger Things.”

The show is intriguing and not just for the Lovecraftian and Dungeons & Dragons-inspired, other-dimensional monsters terrorizing the residents of Hawkins. It also has resonating themes of friendship, sacrifice, fighting for a cause bigger than yourself and the true grit of parenting.

In season one, a group of young friends find themselves worried about their missing pal, Will, as does his single mother, Joyce. The show meticulously makes a point through flashbacks and small moments to show Joyce knows Will. She had taken the time to find and talk with him even when he would withdraw. She noticed when something was wrong, right down to the missing birthmark on a fake body. It was her persistence coupled with a strong support system that saves Will.

His friends are key players, but they don’t do it without adults. Chief Hopper rescues the young heroes and in the end it’s when the kids align with Hopper and Joyce that they are successful. If left to navigate the danger alone, they would have lost.

Our world doesn’t have Lovecraftian monsters, but there are real dangers lurking, ready to destroy our kids – addiction, loneliness, bullying, trafficking, lack of purpose. As parents we need to be vigilant, set boundaries and make decisions that are best for our kids, not decisions that are most convenient for us.

This theme is echoed in season two. Conflict arises when the kids separate from the adults and keep them in the dark about their new “pet.” Will tries to stand his ground against a creature alone. Joyce’s vigilance saves the day. The mother with few resources takes advantage of those she has. She won’t take no for answer, and when Will tries to shut her out, she looks at his video tapes, drawings, anything with clues.

Again, the kids find they need adults to fight the danger. Joyce again rescues Will as she tries to make the environment inhospitable for the monster. He cries to manipulate her so she will quit. She does what’s right for her son, not what is easy for them, and continues to make the hard choice, which saves her son. She’s aware of the realities of the danger her kids face, and she refuses to let them face them alone.

If our kids fall to what preys on them, we need to be ready for the long hard fight, and as a community we should be ready to stand with those parents. Above all we shouldn’t be leaving our kids to fight this world’s monsters alone.

Priscilla Benhke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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Brandi Homan

By Brandi Homan

Brandi Homan

Now that graduation is over and summer is here, don’t forget to talk to your kids about the risks of underage drinking.

Teens who drink before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol problems in adulthood, including a higher risk of addiction. While it’s hyped up in culture, the good news is you have a strong influence over the choices they make, even now.

For many, drinking is social because it can lead the individual to feel less inhibited. Others drink just because others do and it’s just easier to do what everyone else is doing. Despite a teen’s reasons for drinking, the fact remains they are at risk when they consume alcohol.

Actions have consequences and the consequences of alcohol abuse include motor impairment, confusion, memory problems, concentration problems, and excessive drinking leads to poisoning. Teens are also more likely to be polysubstance users.

Your teen might feel invincible since they graduated high school, but they aren’t. And we parents aren’t here to just let our kids become another statistic. So here are some important facts to discuss with your teens as they go into the next chapter in their life.

  1. Drinking before you turn 21 is illegal. You can be cited by the police and arrested for underage drinking.
  2. Drunk driving kills about 4,000 teens each year. Do not ride with friends who have been drinking. If someone who has been drinking offers you a ride, say, “No, thank you.” They might say they are fine to drive and pressure you to ride. Give them an excuse like, “I want to stay at the party a bit longer” or “I already told another friend I would ride with him.” The best solution is for them not to drive at all.
  3. Your brain is developing until your early 20s. Drinking during this time may damage your brain. Teens who drink alcohol have more memory impairment than those who do not drink.
  4. Using alcohol may put you at higher risk for dropping out of high school and even college. Your child has worked too hard for this. Encourage them to continue to make positive, healthy choices.

We’ve taught our kids to stand up for what’s right, even if it means standing alone. Their life and future are more important than a drink.

BeAwesomeYouth.life, Facebook

Brandi Homan is the co-founder of Be Awesome Youth Coalition. Be Awesome helps develop confident, connected and successful youth.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Jiselle Diaz
Jiselle Diaz

By Jiselle Diaz

Teenagers find it difficult to feel empowered.

According to one study, 57 percent of teens have experienced persistent feelings of sadness, rage and hopelessness. This adds to a misconception I notice among teens of this generation; some think being angry about an issue means they are empowered.

This mindset is saying anger is power, and that is not true. It can seem quite difficult to grow as a teen in such a time like this. However, it’s not impossible.

Let’s get personal. My name is Jiselle Diaz and I am Miss City of Maricopa’s Outstanding Teen 2019. I recently became a member of Be Awesome Youth Coalition. My platform is “Be the Lighthouse: Teen Empowerment,” which is about empowering teens through leadership, service and kindness.

During my first two years of high school my family was going through extensive changes, causing me to behave in a reclusive, depressive way due to similar feelings of rage and sadness. I did not want to make new friends or try new things, and I experienced constant anxiety attacks.

I was invited to join Link Crew, where I learned mentorship skills and I helped prepare and guide 16 freshmen for high school. This program gave me the inspiration to develop my platform. I partnered with Be Awesome because everything they stand for fits with my cause perfectly.

Leadership is a skill all teens should learn. Serving others and being kind is always the right thing to do. It is so important to be involved in your community because of how empowering it is. Fortunately, it’s easy to do that in Maricopa.

My favorite ways of getting involved in the community have been musically performing and being a titleholder in the Miss City of Maricopa Scholarship Organization where I’m given the opportunity to serve my community. I highly encourage you to get involved.

Stay connected. Stay positive. As teens, we need to develop relationships and friendships. We should get involved, meet new people, and have fun with it! Life’s too short to not have fun. Shine your light, be empowered, and be awesome, teens.

Jiselle Diaz is the reigning Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen.


5 Ways to Get Involved
1) Get an internship. They provide great experience and look awesome on college resumes.
2) Join a church youth group. Get to know other people just like you and make lifelong friends.
3) Volunteer at your local food bank, host a clothing drive, etc. Help those in need and make a difference.|
4) Get involved in an organization in your community/school. (Hint, hint: Be Awesome!)
5) Start your own organization or club. This is an amazing way to spread a message and gather others around something you believe in.

This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

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Brandi Homan

By Brandi Homan

When interacting and working with others we seek to be recognized. In fact, study after study shows the No. 1 factor that keeps an employee satisfied is being recognized. Harvard Business just published an article all about it as a great way to both recruit and retain talent.

One form of recognition is acknowledgement of our existence, which we get when people talk with us, listen to us and take an interest in our thoughts, actions and well-being.

The next recognition is praise and reward, acknowledging our achievements and so encouraging continued effort. Without this we easily become demotivated and unsure of the real value of our work.

My brother-in-law has been in Syria and is on his way home. He has already sent us pictures of his medals. He is proud to serve his country and to be recognized for his hard work and determination.

In this densely populated and highly interconnected world, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. Teachers instruct hundreds of children each year. Managers in companies may interact with hundreds, even thousands.

So, let’s go backward; when we are recognized, we feel that we exist and have purpose.

Did you know, according to the 2018 Arizona Youth Survey, 41 percent of students reported they don’t feel noticed when doing a good job and 58 percent don’t feel recognized by their teachers? The same survey found kids don’t get much recognition at home, either. Fifty percent of the time they feel parents don’t notice when they do a good job at home.

This makes sense when you move on down the survey and read that 81 percent of kids said they don’t feel the schools let their parents know when they do a good job at school. I hate reading so many students don’t feel supported at home or at school.

People do all kinds of things to gain recognition, particularly working hard in aiming to please. If this seems too difficult, then they may attract attention by other means such as under-performing, acting out or abusing substances to numb out negative feelings.

I believe making the effort to recognize the genuine efforts of our young people at home and at school is a simple yet profound step we can all take to have an awesome effect on our children. At Be Awesome, we as a team believe we can impact our world by developing confident, connected and successful youth by offering community-focused programs and services. Sometimes it’s just a simple “that was awesome.”

Brandi Homan is the co-founder of Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Priscilla Behnke.


By Priscilla Behnke

At Be Awesome we know our youth are experiencing myriad false promises with our current culture.

The temporary highs associated with illicit drugs, the false sense of security through insincere relationships, the seeking of momentary comfort and happiness instead of perseverance and long-term purpose doesn’t end well. We have a plan to influence the culture through our programs like mentoring, education and other community services.

An anecdote of how culture can lead to disarray is Fyre Festival. Netflix and Hulu both released documentaries on the ordeal. In case you don’t know what the Fyre Festival is, here’s a quick recap. An overindulgent 20-something with too much access to investors and celebrities simultaneously closes himself off from those wiser and more experienced. He ends up overwhelmed. Then, when he can’t deliver on any of his promises, he attempts to con his way out.

Thousands of millennials lose even more thousands of dollars, get trapped on an island with subpar, unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Then no bands showed up to perform. The head organizer is now serving a six-year prison sentence, owes $26 million from a criminal conviction and is facing millions more in civil lawsuits.

To date, few have seen their money. This includes the staff, contractors and customers who couldn’t convince their banks the charges were fraudulent.

Each documentary attempts to dissect how the calamity occurred. Each appeared to agree that a slick and well-strategized social media campaign carried out with several celebrity influencers was key. One quote from the Hulu documentary is “what the Fyre Festival did prove was that the power of influence is real.”

People raised red flags on social media, a website was updated daily with the dysfunction on the island, and the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece. No one listened. The platforms for the warnings were no match to counter the influencers’ hype. Instead of acknowledging facts and reality customers eager for a fantasy followed the false promises.

In the end, thousands had a desperate experience while paying for the privilege. Each documentary tried to conclude who was to blame. Neither questioned the concertgoers and a culture that would lead so many to ignore the warnings and expend as many dollars as they did to hang out with those they deemed fabulous.

Andrew Klavan, author and political commentator, is right when he says polls don’t matter, culture does. If we don’t start aiming to impact our culture, we will see more disasters.

The good news is parents are still ranked the No. 1 influencer in their children’s lives. You have more power than a glitzy, well-produced media campaign. Utilize it.

Priscilla Benhke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the March issue of in Maricopa.

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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

Priscilla Behnke.

There’s been a growing trend among teens. E-cigarettes help long-time smokers by reducing the intake of harmful chemicals they inhale while burning traditional tobacco cigarettes, or helping others quit all together. Here are some things to consider when thinking about teen use of vape pens.

1.The “reduction in harm” discussion means just that, it’s less harmful, not harmless. Someone who has been smoking for years looking for a less harmful method is vastly different than a young member of the pink lung club beginning to use nicotine in this “safer” method.

  1. Not all liquid vapor is nicotine free, and they know it. When vaping first started becoming popular I had discussions with middle schoolers who tried vaping. They just wanted to try the fun flavor and were convinced it didn’t even have nicotine. In recent discussions, high schoolers admitted freely that they are vaping nicotine products, and in fact they seek it out. The higher the percentage the better.
  2. They are getting it from older friends and siblings. I called around and suggested that I wanted a starters kit but wanted to get around the pesky 18 and older law. The retailers informed me they were only going to sell to 18 and older. The teens I talked with informed me it wasn’t hard to find friends of age to get it for them; some even had siblings who would buy it for them.
  3. Why they use it might surprise you. One admitted not liking it saying it tasted like an expletive but wanted to appear cool. Another claimed most don’t like it but find it to be a huge stress reliever from what is going on at home or school. Home should be a refuge, but some of our teens are so stressed they are choosing to cope by vaping a poisonous substance in the school restroom, not developing skills that will help them become the confident, connected and successful people this world need.
  4. If you listen, they will talk; and if you talk, they will listen. Parents have more credibility with young people than any institution. If parents stand back and simply wish their kids aren’t involved in these drug trends than an influence vacuum is left to be filled by older friends and siblings in a school restroom with a toxic vapor.


Priscilla Benhke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

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Tyler Awosika


By Tyler Awosika

At Be Awesome, we believe the best way to impact our works is to help develop confident, connected and successful youth by offering community-focused programs and services. One of the programs we are most proud of bringing to our community is the mentoring program where we pair young people with positive role models in school. One of our mentees is sharing what it’s like for him to have a mentor.

My name is Tyler Awosika. I go to Maricopa Wells, and I’m known as the weird creative kid. I sing, design shoes, rap, write music, produce, skate board and even direct films. I am also the owner of my own business, CLBGMSW.

I have been part of Be Awesome Youth Coalition for about a year now. All the members show support and train us on how to be better people, how to be prepared for what we may encounter in the future.

Mr. Doug, my mentor, is on campus at MWMS almost every day, and I can see him whenever I want or need to. He approaches me before school or between classes to see how things are going and talks with other kids about the dangers of using illegal substances or other things that are important to them. He talks with me about my hobbies, some of which he is interested in, too. We talk about the things I do, my visit with family and vacations. When we get together sometimes, we talk, watch videos and listen to the music that I like to listen to. My mentor lets me know that he is there to help me with schoolwork if I need it; I usually don’t so we just hang out.

Several times through this past year I have been able to share the lyrics with Mr. Doug. One day I was telling him my idea about a Skate Day in Maricopa. He encouraged me to talk with a City Council member about it. He told me the protocol of making a presentation to the council before they meet in private to discuss city matters. He encourages me to be myself and not worry about what other people think about me because I can’t do anything about what other people think anyway.

The Be Awesome program really helps a lot, whether it’s meeting someone to talk, or just hanging out, you know, they make me feel welcome. They let me skate on campus after we’re done with the after-school program on Wednesdays; they have no problem with it so it’s fun.

Thank you, Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

To get involved and make a difference for the next generation contact us at BeAwesomeYouth.life.

This column appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

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Brandi Homan


By Brandi Homan

One population of youth where Maricopa falls short of opportunities for is our special-needs kids. This issue is at my heart because my oldest has autism.

We are Be Awesome for a reason. We don’t just identify problems and complain and hope somebody does something. We do something. We do it carefully and deliberately. We have a plan. We have short- and long-term solutions. Here are three areas Maricopa falls short for its special-needs youth and solutions we are going to implement.

  • Recreation Opportunities. Too often our kids with special needs don’t participate in activities because they feel anxious, and current youth-centric activities aren’t set up to accommodate them. Other participants don’t understand. I can share some experiences, but my point is my son and others like him just want to be included, but they don’t make friends easily. My son could use a group with local kids who understand him, relate and can be his buddy. We are proposing meaningful recreation activities designed and carried out by a team of people who are trained and skilled to provide a fun experience where real connections can be made. Not a night off for parents but a night out for them.
  • Information. Awareness is one thing; light your porch blue, that’s great. We are ready for the next step. Providing a real understanding of why my son and others are behaving as they do in public is a whole other discussion. We want to help inform business owners and community members of the reasons special needs kids behave the way they do so our community can react in an accommodating and caring manner. We are offering to use our Talk-O Tuesday platform as a way to educate the community and help foster an appreciation for our special needs kids.
  • Authentic opportunities for life skills. People throw this term around all the time. But a real place for young men and women like my son to be employed and contribute does not exist. Our solution for this is long-term, but we want to acquire our own office space with a place for a retail snack bar or coffee shop that can help employ and provide our special needs teens opportunities for entry-level work in an environment that accepts and includes them. The model already exists. Let’s replicate it here.

If this mission resonates and you’re ready to make a difference, contact me. The well-meaning need not apply.


Brandi Homan is a Be Awesome Youth Coalition board member.

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

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By Chris Cahall

Chris Cahall

HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones” generates its network a billion dollars annually. One of the better scenes is in season two when Petyr Baelish faces off with Cerci Lannister. He hints at knowing a secret she didn’t want divulged and proclaims, “knowledge is power.” She bests him with her soldiers and shows him she can bring about his demise and tells him “power is power.”

SPOLIER ALERT: Baelish was right. We find out later that the whole war was orchestrated by him, he has been manipulating events to produce kingdom chaos with one goal: to take over. He only loses when another player gains knowledge of his scheme, defeating him and claiming his bannerman as her own because, knowledge is power.

Which brings me to my point. This subtle (yet game-changing) plot point is a universal truth that has taken a niche genre and developed it into a multi-billion-dollar franchise. And it isn’t lost on the players at the Be Awesome Youth Coalition. They have adopted this philosophy and will be focusing on it this fall by educating parents and community members on topics relevant to our youth. Kids and teens are facing a slew of issues, and if we don’t make it a priority to educate ourselves on the realities facing them, then we run the risk of falling into the trap of false security. Here are three ways in the month of September you can get involved with Be Awesome and increase the knowledge (aka power).

1). Swag Bags. Be Awesome is currently using fun swag for decorative bags to share with community members that also provide valuable information for parents and community members about adults. We could use help with collecting items, putting them together, and passing them out at events. Or grab one for your-self.

2). Social Media. Like and share the Facebook Page. Be Awesome will be publishing valuable information on their page alongside of other fun and motivating posts. Take the time to like the page, read the posts, and share them.

3). Talk-O Tuesdays. Be Awesome will be providing speakers and information on tough topics relevant to the health and wellness of kids and teens over a taco dinner with the partnership of Ultra Star. After a long drive home on the 347 you don’t have to decide between making dinner and participating in a workshop with valuable information. Your community has you covered.


This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

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Aaron Petrus


By Aaron Petrus

Mentoring students is a very rewarding experience.

I’ve been mentoring for the past year with the Be Awesome Youth Coalition. I’ve learned a lot, including the realization that youth struggles are unique in today’s culture. Factors include social media, a shift in standards, and even family values.

I try to compare my childhood to the kids I work with today, and it’s difficult because our experiences are very different. Like many of the kids I mentor, I too grew up in a single-parent home. But as a kid I never dealt with suicide, depression or child abuse. It existed, but not at the rate these kids are experiencing it.

Issues like peer pressure, drugs and violence existed, but so did positive, meaningful adults in my life alongside my single mother like family, coaches and teachers; and they all guided me on the right path.

Today, social media, violent video games and access to YouTube have all impacted our youth in a negative way – especially in the homes or areas where parenting is not present. As adults, we believe if a child is at home playing video games or on their electronic device it means that they are out of harm’s way. This is not true.

Speaking with kids, many of them have learned a lot of their negative behavior from social media. Most parents are not even aware of what their children are exposed to. The Internet is loaded with teenagers acting in a manner that is totally inappropriate. Somehow, this has become a normal behavior and is accepted today or ignored.

Parents need to be aware of child predators, teen trafficking and cyberbullying. Victims of these tragedies can often become depressed and or suicidal. Statistics show suicide is on the rise among teens, especially teen girls ages 13-17.

Even though it’s different, some things remain the same, such as the human desire for connection, and the adolescent’s need for direction. Today, we have to look outside ourselves and think outside the box because the issues of the past are becoming more intense. But a competent and engaged individual can make a difference.

I’m proud to be a part of Be Awesome Youth Coalition. The Coalition has helped encourage and guide many teenagers and saved the lives of others. Please support Be Awesome Youth Coalition by volunteering, donating or connecting online. Let’s stop talking about the problem and become the solution.


Aaron Petrus is a mentor for the Be Awesome Youth Coalition and can help connect you with opportunities to make a difference. He can be reached at apetrus@beawesomeyouth.life.

This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

A small team of Be Awesome Youth Coalition members attended a showing of the movie Chappaquiddick, the story of Ted Kennedy’s 1969 scandal that ended with a submerged car in a lake and a drowned passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Most of the film is the story of how the affluent, connected and powerful family create a coverup to avoid life-changing consequences for the politician. For the most part they are successful. After some heat and uncomfortable confrontations, he is re-elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death nine years ago. The movie does a good job of showing how power can be corrupt.

I would argue there is the subtle point that many have missed with their hot takes on Twitter, the simple act of drinking too much and driving had the profound effect of ending a young, vibrant woman’s life.

A member in our group shared how her grandmother had been killed by a drunk driver before she even born. This loss has had a deep impact on her mother’s life. It was an unfair and preventable tragedy, all because someone engaged in the simple act of drinking alcohol. Kopechne had hopes, dreams and aspirations, and because alcohol and automobiles were mixed, she didn’t get to attempt them. Despite all the Kennedys’ affluence, it was alcohol’s influence that prevailed.

Each of us have something to offer this world. There are so many possibilities – caring parents raising great children, engineers designing the next fuel-efficient vehicle, a scientist developing a cure for cancer, a teacher inspiring a generation to read. Maricopa is a nice, little, isolated suburb nestled between stretches of highway. That doesn’t grant us any more immunity than a powerful political family’s privilege.

According to the Arizona State Crash Facts in 2016 (the most recent available data), there were 11 alcohol-related crashes in Maricopa in which an individual died as a result. A legacy ended here.

Protecting our legacy is crucial. While our children can suffer from something as unassuming as drinking, we can protect them with meaningful conversation. Ask them what they know about alcohol, what they think about drinking. What is going on at their school and with their peers. Tell them what you think about it, and how valuable they are and why you want them to wait until they are 21.

Be Awesome will be hosting forums and workshops on how to talk with our kids about the most popular substances.


Priscilla Behnke is program director for Maricopa Community Alliance Against Substance Abuse.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

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Priscilla Behnke and Brandi Homan of the Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

By Brandi Homan and Priscilla Behnke

Social Media is a great way to connect with friends, family and community. We realized recently at Be Awesome the youth we were attempting to reach were not connecting with us on Facebook but love Instagram.

We took some trainings. We set up an account, found some memes, took some photos and launched. We were ready. We were not ready. We knew it all wouldn’t be roses and we wouldn’t appreciate all posts, but how bad could some kids’ pictograms really be? A selfie with the occasional curse word? We were blindsided by a dumpster fire.

The least of our concerns were the frequent bird flipping of the camera. We witnessed video of vaping and showing off weed, couples commenting about the previous night’s fellatio, kids suffocating themselves with plastic bags, self-harm accounts, suicide ideation, nude selfies, and the gun threat that landed us on the phone with out-of-state sheriff’s deputies filling out a statement for the court.

Before you get a false sense because it was “out of state,” let us mention it had lots of hearts from local teens here.

Instagram has calmed down. We disrupted the anonymity they thought they were operating with and lost access in some cases. It turns out, when you tell a parent an account exists that isn’t supposed to, there are no more follow backs. Word gets out when you tell the authorities an individual wants to shoot the person who said something mean to them. If we started a new account under the handle Mandy_Bear_Spam_96 it would be unveiled again. We invite you to do so and see for yourself what youth are filling the emptiness with.

We asked students why we were like this. They said there was a desperate need for attention. In some cases, a legitimate cry for help. Others were dramatic attempts to be noticed. The more likes and hearts, the more you popular you are. The more popular you are, the more accepted you are. Translation: The more you matter.

We asked what would help. We expected to hear “more things for teens to do.” We were wrong. They said, “parents need to pay more attention;” “more family events for parents and kids to be together;” and “more teacher involvement for those who don’t have parents who can or who have parents who won’t.” Translation: Kids need to believe they matter.

This is new territory and its going to take brave, competent adults if we are going to change the hearts and lives of teens willing to live-stream their hickey session for validity. If you want to help, please contact us, join us or support us financially at www.mcaasa.org.

This column appears in the April edition of InMaricopa.

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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

Anyone working with teens these days is aware of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. It was all the rage and so popular that season two is now under production. I first ignored it because the premise sounded manipulative and unrealistic, yet almost every teen I met watched it, and loved it. So, I watched. There were the main subjects of suicide and bullying. I also noticed two other themes that aren’t getting as much attention and they should.

The first is frequent substance abuse. I got the impression from watching that the writers put it in as normal. In one scene a boy comes home drunk. His mother, upset he is late for dinner, scolds him, “are you drunk on a school night?” As if it would be acceptable for him to drink around town inebriated on a weekend. There are constant drinking parties, and most of the issues are rooted at the parties.

The second theme was lack of meaningful connection, even between the adults and teens. The parents of the young girl genuinely care for her. But they are so busy they don’t take the time to bond with their daughter. When they do talk with her, it’s about the struggling family business. School staff are all busy and focused on their to-do lists. The show’s adults leave a vacuum, and what fills this void is sinister.

The teens are desperate for relationships but conflate admiration and popularity with caring and companionship. They end up with insincere relationships that dissolve quickly. No one steps in to provide them an alternative; not a youth pastor, coach, teacher or neighbor. In the end the one person who is paid to help won’t because he is busy, and her issue makes him uncomfortable.

When students tell me they relate, it breaks my heart. I don’t believe they are being dramatic; I’ve looked at the data. The Arizona Youth Survey shows that 51 percent of teens don’t feel connected to their community (about 2,726). Roughly 17 percent of teens (about 900) drank alcohol last month. Our community survey consistently ranks parties with friends as a top source of alcohol for Maricopa youth. The city data shows between January and November there were 68 suicide attempts by adolescents.

“The Be Awesome Youth Coalition” is dedicated to developing confident, connected and successful youth. To do that, we need adults who are willing to be the opposite of those depicted in the show. Adults who will make the time, do what is difficult and refuse acquiesce in the face of youth substance abuse. You can find more information at MCAASA.org/Be-Awesome, or join us every second Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. at Maricopa Elementary.


MCAASA.org, Facebook.com/BeAwesomeYouthCoalition, PBehnke@MACAASA.org

Priscilla Behnke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Coalition.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

  1. It’s the most popular drug. With all the talk about the latest epidemic, opioid abuse, it is important to remember that alcohol is still the most commonly used substance by teens. This holds true for our local youth. For the last 12 years all data points to alcohol being the default substance used by Maricopa teens.
  2. The line, “Everybody’s doing it” is a lie. It’s counter intuitive when there is an endless supply of movies ready to be streamed straight to your phone depicting teens and raging alcohol thirsty partiers, but they aren’t. In fact, while it’s the most popular drug of choice, more kids chose not to drink. According to the latest Arizona Youth Survey data, only 17.5 percent of local teens report using alcohol in the 30 days. This same survey has shown, cycle after cycle, teens who use alcohol are in the minority.
  3. Local teens are on the friends-and-family plan. The 17.5 percent of adolescent drinkers accessed their alcohol from somewhere or someone. According to local surveys conducted by the Be Awesome Youth Coalition, our teens are on the friends and family plan. The top two ways youth accessed alcohol were:
  • Party with friends (without adults present)
  • At home from parents or guardians

We need to be vigilant about where are kids are going. We shouldn’t just worry about parties; whom our children are hanging out with is also important. Get to know the parents of our children’s friends. Ensure they are not hanging out at homes where adults are sharing alcohol with minors.

  1. All brains are not equal. There are several reasons we should take underage drinking seriously. Brain development is ongoing for what experts believe to be into the early to mid-20s. In the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a study completed in 2010 by neuroscientist Susan Tapert found that teens who abused alcohol do worse on thinking and memory tests than their non-drinking peers. I meet parents all the time who take pride in their child’s education. If their child is drinking, they are putting said education at risk.
  2. You have the greatest influence. You as a parent have a great impact over your child’s decisions. If you talk with your kids about alcohol, they will listen. Parents who do not engage in discussions about alcohol use risk leaving a vacuum on the issue open for anyone to fill. Your role as a parent is key in helping to reduce underage drinking. For more information follow us on Facebook at The Be Awesome Youth Coalition page or visit our website mcasa.org.

Priscilla Behnke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Coalition.

Facebook.com/BeAwesomeYouthCoalition, PBehnke@macaasa.org 

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.


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Brandi Homan

By Brandi Homan

You always read the headlines about senseless deaths or drug overdoses, but if you’re like me you rarely read the articles. I never did, because it all seemed so abstract.

Until about two weeks ago when I woke up and saw a text from my friend Jennifer’s little brother. “Hey, Brandi I know it’s been a while but wanted to let you know that Jennifer passed away last night. She was in a long battle with an addiction to opioids. God bless her.”

I was shocked and sat in silence for a long time. I had no words. This was not an obscure name in the paper or a statistic I didn’t relate to. This was my friend. My friend had a name – Jennifer.

It took me awhile to respond because I had a million questions. When I did talk to her family, I learned what I had always feared but didn’t accept; Jennifer became addicted 10 years ago. The family tried everything possible to help Jennifer with rehab, therapy and unconditional love. Jennifer eventually made her way in and out jail, but she would rather have gotten her next fix than get better and get clean.

My kids asked why I was upset. I wasn’t sure what to say. I used words like “heroin,” “needles,” “addicted.” They weren’t sure how to respond. I ended with “she was very sick.” This opened my eyes to the fact that I have more explaining to do with my kids.

I want to be open and honest with my kids about everything. There will be a time that I will not be around, and I hope they make the right decisions. I’m on the board for the Be Awesome Youth Coalition. We are dedicated to developing confident, connected and successful youth. Our youth will be none of these things if they become addicted to opioids.

We as parents need to teach them how to be good consumers of our medications and we need to be well informed.

Here are some tips for talking with your kids:

  1. Remain calm and open-mined. (They are nervous, too.)
  2. Avoid lecturing; be positive.
  3. Remind your child that you value this conversation and care about their health.
  4. Be honest about your own experiences as you express your desires for their decisions concerning drugs. Do not glamorize past use.

For more tips visit DrugFree.org.

Brandi Homan is a board member for Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

SG Rho-Maricopa members (from left) Javai Harris, Linette Caroselli and Yolanda Ewing. Submitted photo

By Linette Y. Caroselli

Linette Caroselli

The Be Awesome Youth Coalition has many local partners to assist in its mission of educating youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. is proud to be a consistent partner. Sisterhood, scholarship and service are the pillars of this 94-year-old service organization.

It is the mission of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., which has 85,000 members, to enhance the quality of life for women and their families in the United States and globally through community service, civil and social action.

Currently, there are three active graduate members in Maricopa, and they have been extremely busy upholding the sorority’s motto of “Greater Service, Greater Progress.” Yolanda Ewing is the executive program director for Families First CDC in Maricopa. Javai Harris is an administrative secretary at Maricopa Community Colleges for Healthcare Education and President of Global Peacemakers Corps. I am a veteran middle school teacher in the Maricopa Unified School District 20. Together, we bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the city of Maricopa.

The following programs have been implemented thus far:

  • Operation Big Book Bag – Members supplied students with school supplies 2x a year
  • Human Trafficking Parent Workshops – Educating parents on how to protect their kids from Internet predators
  • Cancer Awareness Workshop – Taught students what cancer was and what they can do to help prevent it
  • Youth Symposium/Run Jump Throw Event – Day dedicated to youth at Santa Rosa and Maricopa Elementary Schools promoting the sorority’s national program Project Reassurance’s H3: It’s All About Me – Healthy Living, Healthy Choices and Healthy Generations along with track and field activities
  • Co-Sponsored the Families First CDC sixth annual Fashion Show Fundraiser
  • Swim 1922 – Partnered with the Arizona Seals for a swim clinic teaching water safety and swimming
  • Hosted a Mother’s Day Dinner & Show – Featuring NFocus the Band

Would you like to serve with us? New members of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. are accepted on the undergraduate and graduate level. Potential graduate members must hold a degree from a four-year accredited college/university. Contact Yolanda at maricopasgrho@gmail.com.


Linette Y. Caroselli is a teacher and a member of Families First CDC.

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Linette Caroselli

By Linette Y. Caroselli

Raising a teenager is no easy feat. Ask them and they will tell you it’s not easy being one.

Young adults deal with the task of trying to navigate through the highs and lows of growing up –  academics, peer pressure, dating, jobs and acquiring their own independence and, most importantly, an identity. Thankfully, there’s an organization that helps teens and parents ease through this transition as partners successfully: Families First CDC.

Families First Community Development Corporation, run by President Dr. Brian Ewing and his wife, Executive Program Director Yolanda Ewing, helps families keep the family unit together by laying seeds of positive change. Each program offered by FFCDC is designed to facilitate a strategy from which participants can rebuild and reposition the family unit so there is hope for future parents of tomorrow and their families. The organization teaches families to work together as a seamless collective body to ensure that differences are recognized and celebrated rather than being tolerated. In this way, parents and teens become one unit.

One of the programs offered to assist parents and teens in meeting success is the Ready For Life Program. It is a mentoring and meal program offering youth the opportunity to receive life-skill enrichment instruction and the option to participate in family and personal empowerment activities that allow each participant to enhance the quality of their life.

In the Youth Outreach component of the Ready for Life Program, session topics presented include life skills, character development, health & wellness, job readiness, drug/alcohol awareness, career awareness and much more. Teens increase their self-esteem in this program by meeting new friends, learning public speaking skills and team-building.

The highlight of the program is the annual Red Carpet Fundraising Fashion Show. This event showcases the “Ready For Life Crew” as the models and dancers. Participants learn modeling skills, choreograph portions of the show, and model dresses and tuxedos for the upcoming prom season. Community businesses sponsor the show demonstrating support for the program such as Be Awesome Youth Coalition, David’s Bridal, Men’s Warehouse and Group USA.

As a program volunteer and parent of a program participant, I am privileged to see the fruits of the Ewings’ labor. It is very well worth it to get your kids involved. There is a tremendous difference in my daughter. Her self-esteem blossomed, and the interview skills she learned helped her get a part time job. She also manages her money well due to the financial literacy classes.

Yolanda.Ewing@ThinkFamiliesFirst.org, ThinkFamiliesFirst.org

Linette Y. Caroselli is a member of Families First CDC.

This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.


Be Awesome Youth Coalition is bringing awareness to parent involvement in substance-abuse prevention with an ice cream giveaway at Water and Ice on Thursday. Photo by William Lange

The Be Awesome Youth Coalition which is a group of community members who celebrate awesome youth and promote substance abuse prevention have teamed up with Water and ice to promote parent conversations about drug abuse by giving out free scoops of ice cream.

With research showing that parents are the No. 1 influence on a youth’s decisions to not use drugs or alcohol, the Be Awesome Youth Coalition and the Maricopa SADD Club chapter raised funds to promote parent involvement with prevention efforts through an ice cream give away on July 21 from 2 p.m. until supplies run out.

One scoop of ice cream will be provided to each customer beginning at 2 pm. Customers will be able to meet Be Jawesome the friendly dancing shark and be provided parent empowerment kits.

Maricopa Ak-Chin CAASA is a community based partnership whose goals are to provide youth with current information and education about substance abuse, enrichment programs and life skills building to increase Youth leadership, community involvement, and personal success. We have been in Maricopa for 25years. Services are youth focused. In that time we have provided prevention and youth development programs.

CAASA youth helped found the Be Awesome Youth Coalition in January of 2015. It also has partnered with the Maricopa School District to provide Onsite School based mentorship programming.