Smoking is still an issue for our youth.

Smoking is still an issue for our youth.

Smoking: Yes, we’re still talking about it. 

Here’s why, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “Approximately 4.7 million middle and high school students were current tobacco users in 2015″. That’s just far too many young people in our books.

Although tobacco use by adolescents has declined substantially in the past 40 years, nearly one in 17 high school seniors was a daily smoker in 2015 (  Smoking damages nearly every organ in the body. Research also shows that adolescent smokers are more likely to engage in other unhealthy behaviors, such as physical violence, marijuana use, and binge drinking.

We want to make sure our young adults are starting their adult lives in health both physically and mentally. We believe the best way to help our young adults make the best choices is through education.

Sumner County STARS Student Assistance Program Counselors work with their Peer Leaders to facilitate sessions at TAATU, Teens Against Alcohol and Tobacco Use, for middle school students in Sumner County.  TAATU is a prevention program designed to give 6th-grade students information about the health risks and long-term consequences of alcohol and tobacco use. We hope giving youth all the information and tools they need it will help them make smart and healthy decisions.

Listen how our counselors across Middle Tennessee are helping educate our young people about the negative outcomes of smoking and alcohol use.

Parents: Tell us how you’re educating your kids about the risks associated with smoking.

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Andrew Maraniss on Race

The other day I was scanning Twitter and ran across a provocative thread of posts from an attorney, librarian and writer named April Hathcock.

“Ok, friends,” she wrote, “We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is race, racism, and whiteness … We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is queer hate, trans hate, heteronormativity…We’re going to be intentional about the oppression and violence about which we speak. We’re going to be intersectional but also specific … We’ve been using intersectionality as an excuse to use feel good euphemisms. We’re going to stop doing that.”

I was intrigued by April’s reframing of the subject because not only does it appeal to the activists among us, in its specificity it can be used to disarm the cynic who dismisses diversity and inclusion efforts as unnecessary, liberal, PC mumbo jumbo. Let’s get real, April is saying.

In 2014, I published a book called STRONG INSIDE, a biography of Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Wallace played at Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s, and as he made history on the basketball courts of the Deep South, Wallace feared for his life. He’d ask himself what’s the worst that could happen, and in his mind, he imagined being shot and killed somewhere like Starkville, Mississippi or Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was routinely harassed by fans with threats with lynching or castration. Back on his own campus in Nashville, Wallace was kicked out of a white church, his best friend was addressed by the N-word on his first day of English class.

A few months ago, I converted STRONG INSIDE into a young readers’ edition, aimed at kids 10 and older. With concern over the sensitivities of some readers (or more accurately, their parents), I debated how much of the derogatory language to keep in this condensed version of the book. In the end, I opted to keep all of it. The truly offensive thing, I decided, would be to whitewash history and let the racists off the hook by sanitizing their words, and in so doing minimizing the hostility and discrimination Wallace encountered and so courageously overcame.

So, I appreciate that this isn’t international diversity day. It’s the International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination. And this year’s theme isn’t “Celebrate (Insert Diverse Name Here) Culture Day.” Rather, the theme is “Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.”
This is the kind of real language April Hathcock was calling for. And a reminder that sometimes being careful about the language we use means telling it like it is, not cleaning it up.

About the Author

Andrew Maraniss Headshot Andrew Maraniss is the New York Times-bestselling author of STRONG INSIDE. The original, adult version of the book received the Lillian Smith Book Award for civil rights and the RFK Book Awards’ Special Recognition Prize for social justice. The Young Readers edition has been named one of the Top 10 Biographies for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24, and visit his website at

Strong Inside Cover
Order his book!

The Importance of Self-Care

Importance of Self-Care

Sometimes managing work, family, and a multitude of daily activities can be overwhelming.  Our challenge is to maintain our resilience so that we can keep doing our vital work with care, energy and compassion. Self-care is an important

10 Things To Do For Yourself Everyday (Self-Care)

  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Get enough to eat.
  3. Do some light exercise.
  4. Vary the work what you do.
  5. Do something pleasurable.
  6. Focus on what you did well.
  7. Learn from your mistakes.
  8. Share a private joke.
  9. Pray, meditate or relax.
  10. Support a colleague.

How are our counselors and staff taking care of their well-being?

Here’s a great activity to demonstrate the importance of self-care


Here are a few more helpful self –care resources:

Headspace-Think of Headspace like a gym but for your mind.

The Quiet Place Project– an online space with various exercise to help you relax and get away from it all for a bit.

Pixel Thoughts– to put your stressful thoughts in a shrinking star and watch them fade away for some temporary relief.

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Scientists prove it, there are benefits to being kind.

Scientists prove it. There are benefits to being kind. 

At STARS, we believe it doesn’t cost anything to be kind towards our fellow human brothers and sisters. According to research, it is scientifically proven there are benefits to being kind!! 

What’s the benefits?

Kindness Increases:

  • The Love Hormone
  • Energy
  • Happiness
  • Lifespan
  • Pleasure
  • Serotonin

Kindness Decreases:

  • Pain
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Blood Pressure

STARS Student Assistance Program Counselors provide a myriad of school-wide activities throughout the school year to promote kindness and encourages young people to be kind to one another. Hear from a few of them how they are promoting kindness!

What are a few ways you are encouraging your kids to be kind? What are ways you as an individual are being kind and setting a good example for future generations?

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Compassion: The Antidote to Trauma

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by negativity?  Turning on the news you see a stream of violence, drug abuse, scandal and scary statistics.  The weight of our social ills, mental health issues and rates of physical disease can make many feel helpless…or even worse, cynical.

Compassion: The Antidote to Trauma

One research study has begun to transform the way people think about these issues; instead of feeling overwhelmed, they feel hope.  The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control in the mid 90’s.  Surveying over 17,000 patients, they found a strong relationships between childhood adversity and later development of disease, disability and social problems.  From crime to cancer, from academic failure to alcoholism, high rates of childhood trauma was the common denominator.

Fifteen years later, scientists have found that toxic levels of stress hurt the developing brains and bodies of children.  Specifically, toxic stress from trauma changes the very architecture of your brain, kills your cells and even changes the way your genes are expressed. Getting deep beneath the skin and putting cracks in the foundation for lifelong health and wellness.

Why would this knowledge create hope?  Because now, we better understand how to meaningfully solve our most enduring problems with one approach.  Since ACEs are the root cause, we need to decrease and alleviate childhood trauma.

When a child is displaying negative behavior, it is often due to stress hormones surging through their bodies which put them in fight, flight or freeze mode.  This is a natural survival response.  When kids come from traumatic backgrounds, they frequently experience this survival reaction.

The CDC’s recommendations for driving down rates of ACEs are safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.  It may seem overly simple, but empowering coaches, teachers, pediatricians, parents and mentors to understand how childhood adversity impacts health and behavior creates a powerful response which is the antidote to trauma.  Suddenly these adults change their question from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”

Science shows we heal child trauma and promote resilience through trauma-informed, or compassionate care.  When hurt and reactive kids are met with calm and safe adults, they can begin to learn these skills themselves.  The brain continues to grow and develop through 25 years of age.  This means adults can help kids build neural connections to combat trauma and improve functioning simply by modeling the behavior they want to see.

Many adults are highly motivated to help and support youth but they become burned out because they deal with challenging behavior, they don’t understand on a daily basis.

For example, when a child curses you, it is difficult not to take it personally.  When these same adults recognize what is happening in the brains and bodies of these children and adolescents, they can respond in a compassionate way that doesn’t worsen trauma symptoms but begins to heal them.

Programs that treat families and youth break the cycle of physical disease, health risk behaviors, addiction, violence and mental health issues.  Realizing the deep impact of trauma, recognizing signs and symptoms, and responding in a way that reduces symptoms are the keys to trauma informed care and a healthier society.  By doing what is morally right for children, we are doing what is logically and fiscally right for all Tennesseans.   This science provides hope that we can move from marginal to massive results in addressing our most burdensome problems.