Natural High has enabled tens of thousands of educators nationwide to guide their students to cultivate “natural highs”

JERSEY CITY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 29: Kevin Chappell of the U.S. Team reacts on the third green during Friday four-ball matches of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club on September 29, 2017 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

PGA TOUR member Kevin Chappell isn’t unique in that he thinks of his brother all the time. Really, it’s a no-brainer among siblings.

Where Chappell’s story differs from many, though, is that all which revolves around his brother today will be forevermore limited to memories. Just three days before his 25th birthday, Casey Chappell succumbed to drug addiction.

“He was addicted to anything that would alter his state of mind,” said Chappell, winner of the 2017 Valero Texas Open, which helped earn him a spot on last year’s United States Presidents Cup Team. “Casey was always the kid so close to making the team, but would just miss the cut. He was the kid who had a good group of friends, but became drawn to that ‘other’ group of friends.”

In his debut appearance on a Presidents Cup Team, Chappell went 1-1-1 to help lead the United States to a convincing 19-11 victory over the International Team. Along with the pride and prestige that he earned on the winning team came the funds each team member received to donate to the charity of their choice.

While Chappell and his wife Elizabeth committed themselves extensively to their Champion for Children’s Oncology Endowment, the couple decided to spread their wings a bit more with their Presidents Cup residuals.

“Through the Presidents Cup, we were able to make quite a large financial donation,” Chappell said. “Elizabeth and I started looking at our own Foundation, which helps children’s hospitals in California. It’s a wonderful foundation and one we put a lot of time into. But, once we had kids, we decided to change directions a little bit with something that hit closer to home. …Addiction has affected both of our lives. So, we started looking into foundations that deal with that.”

Through a lot of research, the couple discovered the youth development nonprofit Natural High. Since the late 1990s, when what is now a full-blown opioid epidemic is believed to have taken root, Natural High has enabled tens of thousands of educators nationwide to guide their students to cultivate “natural highs” – activities that naturally raise endorphins, instead of drugs or alcohol.

In the decades since then, as overdose deaths have skyrocketed, nearly 36,000 educators and countless parents nationwide have turned to Natural High’s free online, video and print resources, which encourage teen and pre-teen students to raise their own endorphins and take a stand against peer pressure.

“I did a lot of reading about Natural High and reached out to them,” Chappell said. “We really took to their core values and what they believe in... I looked at those values in reference to some friends and family I have lost to addiction and realized they were missing some of those core values. So, we decided that this is where we want to be. We thought this could really work.”

Natural High seeks to engage adults who can help young people find their “Natural High,” including the skills and courage to avoid drugs and alcohol and live life well. The effort helps students go on to discover and live their own passions, whether that is art, sports, religion, music or environmental causes, or other healthful pursuits.

“The generous contribution by the PGA TOUR and Mr. Chappell will allow us to reach and inspire far more young people to find what naturally lifts them up, and stick with it,” said Gina Morris, executive director of Natural High. “Lighting this spark can make the difference between a life well-lived, or one that succumbs to addiction.”

In a page taken from the triumph-over-tragedy story, Jon Sundt founded Natural High after losing both brothers to drug addiction. Over 20 years, Natural High has reached millions of kids around the world.

“When Elizabeth and I were looking into Natural High,” Chappell said, “I read about how many kids the program helps. And, I thought about Casey. My brother didn’t have anything like this to focus on back then. So, pledging our support to Natural High just seemed like the right thing to do. And, now, I know it’s the right thing to do.”

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, nine out of 10 addictions begin in the teenage years. The research-based idea of Natural High is that if kids engage themselves with and focus on people they look up to and trust, the risk of unhealthy addictions decreases significantly.

Natural High is dedicated to telling stories to kids from and about people they admire as effective diversions away from drugs and alcohol. To reach the kids, Natural High draws upon educators, peers and some 40 celebrities and counting – like Major League Baseball players David Wright, Jason Heyward and Adam Wainwright, professional dancer Chelsie Hightower, and LPGA player Anna Rawson – to talk to young people about the highs they get through sports, art, entertainment, fashion and otherwise, and how it feels to live drug-free.

“Kids who consistently have positive things in their life typically don’t get in trouble,” said Medford, Oregon middle school teacher, Susan Holt. Winner of the 2017 Natural High Educator of the Year award, Holt devotes her time and effort to helping her students find their natural high.

“Natural High was different and focused on positive alternatives. They weren’t just about ‘don’t do drugs’,” she said. “Natural High helped me get to know my kids more than anything and see what they are passionate about. It also helped me get to know the kids who really need help, support, guidance and someone to believe in them.”

Jaiden Gallery endured a childhood no one should ever be subjected to. Growing up under the same roof with substance-abusing parents, she and her siblings were eventually taken under the legal guardianship of her grandparents. It was that or foster care.

“Knowing that I didn’t have to be like my parents, knowing that I could choose a life with no drugs and no alcohol was really important,” said Gallery, winner of the 2017 Natural High Essay Contest. “If you’re surrounded by people who are doing drugs and alcohol, you don’t have to be like them. You can do whatever, be yourself. You can be whoever you want to be.”

And, with the help of the Natural High program, Jaiden is skyrocketing toward everything she knows she can become. A 4.0 student, her love of playing soccer replaced what could have been an easy trap to fall into.

“Today, soccer helps keep me occupied from anything else that’s happening around me,” Jaiden said, a testament to the 94 percent of youth who made the choice to live drug-free and naturally high after participating in the program, according to a 2014 impact study by Harder + Company Community Research.

However, young people continue to be hit from all directions by negative influences like alcohol and cigarette ads, and addictions often follow.

“Not long ago, Elizabeth and I watched a documentary on minimalism,” Chappell said. “They reported that in 1995, there was $6 million in ads directed at kids. In 2016, there was $6 billion spent on television ads for kids. What that does is create those ‘poor me, I need that, I’m missing out’ feelings we see too often in kids these days.”

Chappell himself was able to find his natural high. It was through the game of golf, and is paying off in grand fashion today. He’s a PGA TOUR winner and former member of a victorious Presidents Cup team. And, last week, he was inducted into the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame, just weeks before the national 2018 Red Ribbon Week – held each October 23-31st to mobilize communities to educate youth in drug-prevention – gets underway.

Kevin Chappell will always have the memories of his brother, though Casey Chappell will be anything but relegated to the past. Casey’s memory has, in large part, already inspired a gesture that will help keep others similarly lost around the world clear and present. In that hope alone, triumph exists amidst tragedy.

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