4/20: Teen volunteer program aims to take day back from marijuana, Columbine

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April 20 is simultaneously a day of celebration and a day of mourning -- claimed by both pro-marijuana activists and those impacted by the 1999 Columbine shootings. But this year, the Substance Abuse Coalition of Douglas County is looking to reframe these associations. The coalition is organizing "Take Back 420" in an effort to make 4/20 memorable not for marijuana or school shootings, but for community service.

"Take Back 420" is a daylong volunteer opportunity for Douglas County students of all ages who have the day off from school in light of the Columbine shootings. Carla Turner, the event coordinator and a member of the coaltion, says the event was strategically planned to counteract the "not-so-great" events that take place on 4/20.

"What a rotten day that was. Is that going to define those kids forever? Hell no. Our kids do more than school shootings," she says.

"We have kids who are sitting in the emotions of the anniversary of the Columbine shootings and they're off from school," Turner adds. "And then we have a number of marijuana-related festivals around the nation. So you have idle kids, heightened emotions and access to substances like marijuana.... It's a bad combination"

She describes "Take Back 420" as a win-win situation for the students because they can put their volunteer time toward graduation -- Douglas County School District requires twenty hours of community service to graduate.

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Volunteer opportunities range from "dirty, horse-related chores" with Partners Equine Therapy to washing patrol cars with the Douglas County Sherriff's office. Click here for the full list and the nonprofit organizations involved.

Participants who volunteer for four or more hours will be entered in a drawing to win "cool gift cards," and the high school with the most volunteer hours will receive an award dubbed "The Golden Shovel."

"It's exactly what it sounds like -- a golden shovel," Turner concedes. But she also sees it as "a point of pride," adding that the award will be given to the winning school to display for the next year, presumably inspiring competition in upcoming years.

"I really hope there is a percentage of youth who get a taste for what these organizations are doing in the community -- the organizations that decide on a regular basis to put their hands on their heart and give back to the community," Turner says.

Douglas County youth interested in participating should visit the "Take Back 420" website.

More from our News archive: "Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division staff cuts big but likely temporary."

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