OCEAN CITY – While everyone involved with the Play it Safe campaign hoped that it would catch on back in 1989, no one ever expected it to “catch fire” and become such a bright shining light two decades later in raising awareness against drug and alcohol use amongst teens.
As the Play it Safe Ocean City campaign prepares for its 20th year, the number of teenagers it reaches has grown to amazing levels, over 13,000 last June alone, and the impact on the community at large is undeniable, as Play it Safe was one of the programs that helped Ocean City win the prestigious “All American City” award in 2001.
Though its current impact on the community has been widely recognized and acclaimed, its creation in 1989 is lesser known. At the time, Governor William Schaefer and then Ocean City Mayor Roland Powell had a conversation about potentially starting a committee to raise awareness on drug and alcohol abuse in Ocean City’s community.
“They first started the Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee which led to us finding the Play it Safe campaign in Caroline County, which at the time was geared solely towards teen pregnancy,” said former director Marty Pusey “We thought it would be a great idea to bring to Ocean City, expand it state wide, and combine it with other aspects of teen prevention like drug and alcohol abuse.”
Pusey went on to discuss the creation of the popular Play it Safe booklets that are distributed throughout the Maryland state school systems. She gave huge amounts of credit to longtime resident Eleanor Kelly for “getting out into the community and getting advertisements for the booklets and raising awareness of our cause to local businesses.”
These days, the booklets are widely recognized and funded by a grant by the Maryland Office for Crime Control and can be used as a guide for teens to know what free events and discounted services they can enjoy while they stay in Ocean City.
Current Play it Safe Director Donna Greenwood realizes that the program’s success and longevity is an exception in the world of non-profit organizations.
“Twenty years is quite an accomplishment for a committee such as this, as most of its kind only last for a few years,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without the hundreds of volunteers and the wonderful support of the Mayor and City Council and the community.”
Many of the free events are held on town grounds and often times, Greenwood says, services and supplies are donated to support Play it Safe’s cause of keeping kids out of trouble when they visit Ocean City.
“It would cost us about $50,000 a year to fund Play it Safe if it weren’t for the incredibly generous donations and services provided to us by the community. It really shows how a community can make a difference in children’s lives and the generosity in which this town gives is truly amazing,” she said.
The town’s website enjoyed over a million hits last year and its online presence is credited with attracting the “much more sophisticated and worldly” teenagers of today.
“Kids today are impetuous and impulsive. They want things in a flash, and we have to come up with new ideas for events that will keep them interested,” Greenwood said. “We aren’t naïve enough to think that all kids make the choice to live a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle, but we hope to sway the kids that are sitting on the fence and could be pulled one way or another by peer pressure.”
As Play it Safe enters its 20th year, Greenwood hopes to continue to come up with new events and ideas to draw not only the kids that visit Ocean City, but also the ones that already live here.
What started as a conversation between two elected officials in 1989 has evolved over twenty years to be a movement of sorts, run by a passionate community and volunteers, focused on teaching our kids to “play it safe.”