We don’t know what we don’t know.

Piercing experiences this past week confirmed this simple truth, pushing me to seek hope that we can make a difference in the lives of struggling young people.

It began last Wednesday, as I listened to a litany of speakers share statistics and stories about teen substance abuse in Pella. Their words were compelling, but I couldn’t help but notice the woman across the aisle.

Her body language shouted “Amen!” So many speakers shared their “whys” — what inspired them to come and be candid. I had to discover hers.

“Jane” doesn’t want me to use her real name, but she’s not shy about her why. Her son is a drug addict.

Jane’s asking for anonymity echoed a point made that night from the stage. Part of Pella’s drug problem comes from it being an image-conscious community. She fears what people might say about her family and the repercussions her candor might bring.

She never imagined herself in this situation or the seat she squirmed in that night. Speakers said that people don’t aspire to be addicts. Nor do parents like Jane pursue their plight. She’s proud of her town for facing up to the problem and hopeful that the Pella Youth Coalition’s efforts will make a difference. But the challenge is more complex than any checklist can address.

“We did all those things,” she said. “My son still ended up a drug addict.”

Now Jane wrestles with hindsight and foresight. Could she have said or done more when she saw signs such as eyedrop bottles littering her son’s room? Should an anti-drug effort refer to “bad kids” and “good kids?”

Or are they all just all our kids?

“The reason I want to be involved in things like this is I never want some other parent to go through what we have gone through,” she said. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Sean Tighe would second that emotion. He lost his son, 17-year-old son, Peyton, in February and weighed in on the discussion with an e-mail addressing the community’s culture.

“It’s easier to bury it than make it real and talk about it,” he wrote.

Sadly, there’s plenty of pain these days among youth and families across our county. The police scanner crackles too often with reports of children dying too soon.

Those words — “too soon” — come up too often when we deal with life-and-death issues.

All too often, the right words come too late, if at all. It’s never too soon to speak up.

There are no simple solutions to the problems that often push young people to a desperate brink, but silence is not among them.

Some have told me it’s too soon to use certain words in print. Do these become, like religion and politics, topics that we stuff until they fester in ugly ways?

I started by mentioning hope, so I’ll end with four reasons for it:

  • at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at Central College, Derek Jorden will discuss how his alcohol abuse led to a fatal crash and derailed his promising life.
  • at 8 a.m. Sept. 15 at Knoxville High School, the Your Life Matters 5K Run/Walk will raise money for suicide prevention awareness.
  • at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at KHS, the Marion County Coalition for Suicide Prevention will share its goals and get working on its mission.
  • at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at Central College, Joan Becker will discuss the demons that drove her son to kill a beloved football coach.

We’ll share more soon in the Journal-Express and Chronicle and on our websites. For now, mark your calendars.

When it comes to helping young people, it’s never too soon.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at pfinan@journalexpress.net.

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