By MARY POLETTI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
LaGRANGE, Mo. -- To tackle a mushrooming problem with drugs in the area, the LaGrange Community Youth Center is broadening its services.
The center will hold its annual anti-drug program Saturday afternoon. Since last summer, it also has played host to three meetings a week of Narcotics Anonymous.
The program, a recovery resource for abusers of drugs, alcohol and other substances, has grown since moving to the youth center in July after a fire at its original home, LaGrange's First Baptist Church.
Wayne Gilliland, one of the chairmen of the NA meetings, said typically two or three people might have attended an evening meeting at the church. In the center, attendance has been averaging 10 or more, which he said is large for an NA meeting in the area.
Gilliland attributes that growth in part to the move. While he doesn't believe the church was necessarily an intimidating setting for the meetings, he said a more neutral community space such as the youth center has proved more comfortable.
"They feel like they're in a public place, unbiased," said Gilliland, a former meth addict who has spoken publicly and at the youth center about its dangers. "There are no predetermined things they have to think when they walk in the door."
The meetings are held at times when the center typically is closed to children -- noon Mondays, and Monday and Friday nights.
NA meetings are open not only to addicts seeking recovery -- whether they come of their own accord or by court order -- but also to family members and friends seeking to understand the organization's processes.
Although the center's youth opportunities do not overlap with the NA meetings in terms of time, center Director Betty Bronestine said it can be critical for her young clientele to see the harmful effects of drugs. She worries that some children who patronize the center already have tried drugs.
To that end, recovering addicts will speak at Saturday's anti-drug event, which is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. at the center, 405 W. Jefferson. The event will include pizza.
Gilliland is coordinating the anti-drug day, but others who "have walked the walk and talk the talk" will speak to children and their parents, Bronestine said.
"This type of stuff, this is where the kids will listen," she said. "These guys, when they're talking, the kids know that they know what they're talking about. ... There's a happy ending to these guys' stories, but these guys have also experienced (friends' stories) who did not have happy endings."
In addition to NA, the center next month will also begin hosting Reformers Unanimous meetings Friday nights. That faith-based program is geared toward people suffering from substance, gambling, sex and other addictions.