Staff report

(Rock Hill, S.C.) – Students from across York County were able to showcase their skills, singing songs and performing music, over the weekend at the 3rd annual All On Board Coalition student talent, which was open to students in grades from 7-12.

All On Board uses the event, which was held April 29 in Rock Hill, to connect with young people and raise awareness of the group’s mission to prevent youth substance abuse in York County.

“The talent show was a huge success, which was exactly what we wanted,” said Ashli Watts, executive director of the nonprofit, who was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast.

“That (show) came about because our All Youth On Board club of students from local schools said, ‘Hey, we celebrate athletes a lot in Rock Hill and York County, but not really art as much’,” she said.

“Talented students came together for this wonderful talent show that we started and we had judges from the community. Riverwalk Elevation (Church) was able to give us a free space and they helped us with that and we were able to get a lot of attention from the community through that.”

Watts said the group has held many online and virtual events, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the talent show has become one of All On Board’s most popular outreach events.

“It gave students, who had been isolated during the pandemic, a chance to express themselves and feel less isolated by connecting. So our talent show and all of our events are actually prosocial, meaning we’re a prevention based organization, so we’re really reaching out to students who don’t yet have a problem,” she said. “We want to encourage them to do something positive with their time, to find a good outlet for their artistic abilities in a safe space.”

The talent show is just one of many events hosted by All On Board throughout the year, including the group’s alcohol enforcement team.

“That (team) goes out every month to restaurants and convenience stores, where they try to make sure that stores are not selling to minors, because that is a big prevention initiative that is very effective,” said Watts.

“We have eight subcommittees, so with that we have a lot of different events,” she said. “But our main goal is to help students and youth thrive in our environment.”

The group is made up of 115 members and also teams up with other nonprofits, such as Keystone Substance Abuse Services, and school districts in the area to education young people about the dangers of substance abuse.

Watts said, through survey data All On Board has collected, it appears the most popular drugs used by people under the age of 21 in York County, includes alcohol, marijuana and nicotine, which is often used through vaping.

She said opioids are probably the least used drug, among teens in the county, but they can be the deadliest, as there were 106 total overdose deaths last year in York County. However, only a handful of those were among teens.

“That is just devastating. We don’t want to lose another child, student or person to an overdose,” she said.

The organization also gives out resources to parents to help them to talk to their children about difficult topics, such as substance abuse.

“I would say the best thing to do is to educate yourself and then talk to your kids,” Watts said. “If Friday night is pizza night, just say ‘Hey have ya’ll seen any vapes at school?’”

All On Board’s next event is a butterfly release on May 21 at Fountain Park in Rock Hill, which is intended to honor those who have lost their lives over the past year.

* Savanna Fiegl, Breyonce’ Lee and Shannon Williams contributed to this report.