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Butt Ugly Anti-Tobacco Program comes to a finale

The Red Deer program celebrates 24 years of empowering youth across the region

Butt Ugly, a theatre-based tobacco prevention program, is having its final run after 24 years of engaging and empowering youth across Central Alberta.

“We’ve had a terrific run,” said Gail Foreman, one of the program founders and the general manager.

The program is targeted towards students in Grade six, as it’s around the time they start getting interested in experimenting with substances, tobacco typically being the most common one they start out with due to its easier availability.

“Our aim was to reduce the numbers of kids who are using tobacco in our zone and it looks like that is happening,” said Foreman, adding that they can’t be linked to all the success that’s happened, but they’ve been a big part of it.

“Our program was a social innovation back in 1994 when we first started and we were the only program doing tobacco prevention that was using just slightly older peers than the kids that deliver the program.”

The amount of high school aged actors they have taking part in the program varies from year to year, but they have had about 900 kids involved in the program over the years and still have alumni involved in various ways, some even as employees of the program.

“Our current board chair is a Butt Ugly alumnist. We’ve had lots of youth that were involved in the program as actors sitting on our board and either working or volunteering in various ways in the program and we’ve seen almost 60,000 plus kids in the 24 years that we’ve been operating,” said Foreman.

The program has its final show on Nov. 2nd.

And the program has come a long way since its inception of starting out with a small grant of $1,500 from The Alberta Lung Association.

“Theatre was cutting edge cool back when we started, but kids are into different stuff now and there’s a lot more resources out there for youth. Gaming has taken off and I think that there are some resources that are game-based for youth now and teachers are interested in offering them in their classroom because they are free.

“The times are changing and you have to move with them.”

The program was Foreman’s brainchild, and she began working on it in 1992 when she was a public health nurse.

“Part of my job was going in and talking to Grade seven youth so that they could do a provincial assignment on tobacco and it was the most un-engaging experience for all involved. It was boring, for me as well as them,” she said with a laugh.

She thought there had to be a better way – it involved a lady named Tanya Ryga.

“It took me two years and a connection through a friend to find Tanya Ryga and Tanya had the background and the skill set to do touring theatre and a partnership was made and a project started. We involved the kids that we wanted to use as the cast in developing the program.

“It was so successful and the kids were so engaged because we had the actors break out into small, working groups with them after the performance part of the show to talk about stuff. We called those things ‘buzz’ groups.”

Foreman said kids were able to talk about their concerns with tobacco, what they’ve heard about it and strategies to avoid peer pressure.

With its final hurrah on Friday, Butt Ugly’s Board of Directors are confident they are passing the torch to the schools and the youth, who will continue to promote and pursue a tobacco-free lifestyle.

For information on the program visit buttugly.ca

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