Youth program operator retiring

Munroe has worked with about 1,100 students since 1986 startup

By Gerrie Grevatt The Halifax Herald

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Lunenburg - George Munroe's office is starting to look fairly empty.

The walls are bare, there's nothing on the meeting table and the only things left on top of the bookcase are a couple of framed pictures of some smiling kids.

Those photographs will likely be among the last things the retiring head of Youth Support Services will pack before leaving Jan. 4. It's not known who will replace Mr. Munroe.

The black and white pictures bring back memories of the early days of the program and remind Mr. Munroe that it's been the young people who have made it work.

"I've always felt I have far more to learn from them than they'll ever learn from me," he said Monday.

The service started in 1986 with four teenagers who got busted for smoking dope in their high school parking lot. The school's guidance counsellor called Mr. Munroe, then an addictions counsellor working mostly with adults, and asked for his help.

The boys weren't in counselling for long before one proposed Mr. Munroe meet them at their school instead of in his office. The teen also suggested training kids as peer counsellors.

Since then, Mr. Munroe has worked with about 1,100 junior and senior high school students in Lunenburg and Queens counties. The school-based peer-driven rehab program is one of only two in Canada. There's a similar project in Winnipeg.

At least half the young people Mr. Munroe has seen are in the experimental stages of alcohol and drug use.

"Early intervention is really helpful because we're able to teach them . . . general life skills that help them not only to stay off the substances but live pretty full lives, rather than the narrow existence that a lot of kids who are into substances live," he said.

Alcohol remains the No. 1 substance abused by young people on the South Shore, followed by cannabis and LSD. What scares Mr. Munroe is that kids are younger when they start using them.

"When I first started, the average age was probably 13. Now it's around 11," he said.

"I asked a group of kids the other night what their biggest fear was, and at least 80 per cent said not being able to get a job and raise a family. . . . There's a real fear among kids now regarding their future."

Mr. Munroe and peer counsellors encourage their clients to have faith in their own abilities.