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Be Awesome

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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. Photo by Mason Callejas

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. Photo by Mason Callejas

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. Photo by Mason Callejas

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.