Natural High

Hitting The Natural High Notes

Kids can be a tough crowd when it comes to a topic like drug and alcohol abuse. Sometimes it’s not enough just to lecture them to steer clear. They need a more attractive alternative.

That’s where Natural High comes in. The San Diego-based nonprofit has developed a program for middle school kids that offers up a simple but highly effective message: The best rush you’ll ever feel in life is finding your very own “natural high”.

“A natural high can be anything,”says Jon Sundt, who founded the organization after losing his two brothers to drug use. “Dance, computers, art, surfing, singing, gardening, friendship, or love. Everybody has a “natural high”, and part of the beauty of the program is drawing that out of kids.”

The organization’s DVD series – which is shipped for free to schools across the nation – comes bundled with a curriculum geared at kids who will soon be facing peer pressure to try drinking and drugs. The sleekly shot videos include interviews with tween and teen-revered celebrities ranging from skate legend Tony Hawk to fashion designer Lauren Hunter and The Voice finalist Cassidy Pope.

“We target heroes of kids,”says Sundt. “We need to communicate to kids in a language that’s not talking down to them. The power of human storytellers can influence a generation.”

The success stories all share one huge thing in common: They’d never be where they are if they’d gone the partying route. They worked hard and excelled because they found their natural high and embraced it. As for kids who don’t know what their natural high is?

“We have creative visualization activities,” explains Sundt. “Close your eyes and think about the most fun you’ve ever had in your life. What was that? How did it feel?”

The program, which has shipped to some 16,000 schools and reached six million kids, continues to spread through teacher-to-teacher referrals. A pledge drive started by a former intern – whose original goal was to collect 1,000 signatures – has now toppled the 85,000 mark.

Part of the allure is the cool factor, which Sundt readily admits. “It’s the Madison Avenue approach,”he says. In addition to the high-profile celeb spokespeople, the organization does outreach at hip events. Natural High’s 19-year-old youth engagement coordinator, Allura Garis, learned about the program at the traveling Warped Tour concert when she was a junior in high school. She snagged a sticker that proclaimed, “Music is my natural high.”

“Growing up, I was always a driven young person, but I’d started to go down a wrong path” Garis says. “After finding out about Natural High, I watched Cassidy Pope talk about being drug-free five times that day. That was a huge turning point in my life.”

And parents can start the conversation, too – DVDs are available for purchase, and the Web site offers lots of invaluable info too. 858.551.7006, naturalhigh.org  Annamaria Stephens