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Community presence
DASA welcomes new director
4 DASA Director pic
An Arrive Alive volunteer aids Dawson County High School junior MaKayla Crowder, 16, with a drunk driving simulator during an event organized by Dawson Against Substance Abuse. The organization welcomed Veronica Johnston last week as its new director. - photo by Chelsea Thomas Dawson Community News

Dawson Against Substance Abuse, a partner agency with Dawson County Family Connection, recently introduced its first director.

Veronica Johnston, who has significant experience with nonprofits, has embraced DASA's expanded vision.

The organization, which initially targeted methamphetamine use, in recent years has broadened its scope to include all addictive substances.

"We want to have events that people can be a part of that can help kids make better choices," Johnston said. "We want [kids] to know what their choices are and how to make the right one."

One of the first events Johnston directed was last week's Arrive Alive Tour at Dawson County High School.

The event sought to spread awareness of the dangers of drunken driving and texting while behind the wheel.

Sponsored by DASA, the high school and several local businesses, the event offered a texting and DUI/DWI simulator to help teenagers understand the dangers.

"Prevention is the key," Johnston said. "The younger we get them to know what risks there are for certain behaviors, the sooner we can give them the tools so they can stay away from it."

Principal Jute Wilson agreed that awareness is important.

"I've been at schools before where we actually lost some kids to texting and driving," he said. "They have had some tragic accidents here in the past few years.

"There is nothing worse than going through that together as a school and as a community. I think [this event] is a worthwhile investment."

Bindy Auvermann, executive director of the Dawson County Mentoring Program and a DASA board member, hailed the Arrive Alive Tour.

"[DASA] has tried everything to get their attention, even scare tactics. Yet, it doesn't work," Auvermann said. "So we had the opportunity for the simulator and we went with it because it is a hands-on event. Now you can see for yourself.

"So maybe that next time [the students] are at a party they will think twice," she said.

Wilson estimated 120 juniors and seniors participated in the event.

Eleventh-grader Adam Shelp, who recently began driving, said the simulator helped him better understand the impairments that intoxicated and distracted drivers face.

"You see what it is really like," he said. "You don't get the real adrenaline rush, but you know how hard it is to control the vehicle."

The next DASA event is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 28.

Auvermann also welcomed Johnston to DASA.

"We were really excited to get her to come on board because she had all this nonprofit experience," Auvermann said. "We knew she was very well-versed in pulling a community together."

Originally from Puerto Rico, Johnston has experience in nonprofit and governmental work. After studying clinical psychology and child development at Tufts University in Boston, she spent 10 years "working to implement community programs."

For the last three years, Johnston worked for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation with the Meta-Leadership program.

The effort organized summits across the country to help leaders of the business, nonprofit and government sectors work together for emergency preparedness.

"We focused on community involvement, working to get everybody working together toward a cause," she said.

Likewise, Johnston will be working on community involvement for DASA.

"This [position] is a good way to give back to the community, to be involved with the schools and all the community partners to make a difference," she said.

Johnston, her husband and two daughters relocated to Dawsonville about a year ago.

The new position is partially funded through a grant that Family Connection received in October from The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Office of Prevention Services.