The Founding of LiveFree!
The LiveFree! Coalition started more than 10 years ago with a mission to join local community organizations, parents, teens, and leaders together to make a difference in youth’s lives in the Tampa Bay / Pinellas area. Today, the coalition remains stronger than ever, reaching out to many schools, garnering active participation amongst teens, and saving lives from the dangers of substance abuse.
How it all began: In March 2003, the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (JWB) entered into an agreement with the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services, Office of Justice Coordination (OJC) to facilitate the creation of the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County (SAPC).
Vice President of Marketing and Communications at WEDU, Larry Jopek, was appointed as Chair of the organization. Jopek, who has experience running WEDU’s Town Hall meetings, gathered a group of community members and brainstormed the concept of LiveFree! in a board room. The idea for the LiveFree! Clubs came shortly after and have expanded their reach, making more of an impact each year.
In 2005, the Pinellas County Schools’ Safe and Drug Free Schools leadership, East Lake PTA, and East Lake High School principal spoke out about the substance use problem at East Lake High School. This sparked the beginning of the newly revised LiveFree! Coalition.
In 2006, Operation PAR, Inc. became the legal and fiscal agent of the original group to be able to grow the organization and submitted an application to the Drug-Free Communities Support program to implement the Live Free! Coalition.
In 2007, Pinellas County Schools was awarded the Federal Underage Drinking Grant, which replicates LiveFree! Clubs throughout Pinellas County high schools. East Lake High School pioneered the first school-sanctioned LiveFree! Youth chapter.
Year after year, word was spread to increase LiveFree! Club growth in Pinellas middle-and-high schools and numerous community locations; the Coalition board grew, and the Town Hall events became even more successful. Since that time, Jopek has remained passionately and actively involved; serving on the board since its inception. Now, we congratulate Jopek as he plans to retire and start a new chapter in his life.
“The LiveFree! Coalition and Clubs whole idea was to say, if to be cool you’re supposed to be drinking and doing drugs, we need to change that perception and show that the kids who don’t drink and do drugs are really the cool ones,” says Jopek. “We felt strongly that we could really make this happen and that it was an urgent issue.”
“LiveFree! has been a key part of my life, over 10 years, every night I go home and think well maybe there was at least one kid we saved today. I will stay on the council for at least another year. It’s time for me to proudly pass the torch to somebody else and continue to watch this amazing organization grow,” continue Jopek.
We truly thank Larry Jopek for his heart-felt contributions and kind leadership he has extended. He will forever remain a part of the LiveFree! Coalition. Everyone involved, the coalition partners, LiveFree! Club members and schools, thanks him for his selfless service to our community.