Covering the Waterfront On Teen Advocacy

SADD Chief Sees Epidemic in Underage Drinking, Drug Abuse

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WALLACE SAYS THE NEED for the peer-to-peer youth education and empowerment organization—and parental involvement— has never been greater. “The bottom line is that, frankly, we have an epidemic of underage drinking and other drug use in young people, and we are seeing a downward trending regarding the age of initiation.”

Research sponsored by SADD and Liberty Mutual Insurance reveals a spike in drinking between the sixth and seventh grades, as well as in other drug use between the eighth and ninth grades and a sharp increase in intimate sexual behavior between the 10th and 11th grades. Noting that these are just averages—many young people start even earlier—Wallace believes it is important for parents to recognize that the world in which their children are living might be significantly different from the world they knew while growing up: “If we know the average age young people begin drinking is 12 or 13, waiting until they are in high school to start talking about alcohol use puts us way behind the curve.

“And if we don’t know the choices that our kids have to make almost every day, whether good or bad, we may not feel a sense of urgency to make sure they are prepared to make the decisions that not only we want them to make but, in many cases, the ones that they want to make.”

Wallace frequently speaks to children who, he says, have made bad decisions because they were unprepared and didn’t know how to say no and walk away. “For example,” he says, “it’s profoundly sad to talk to a kid who had sex at a young age and regrets it, because it’s not something they can take back.

“By knowing the choices kids face, parents can help them to make appropriate ones.”

 

IN WHAT HE CALLS HIS “bizarre two-track career,” besides his SADD positions and his business consulting, Wallace has held posts in political campaigns and state government. Blame his multiple Renaissance-man interests on his parents. His father was a successful vice president of a major New York City apparel manufacturing company, and his mother was “the quintessential people person, somebody who woke up every single day of her life trying to figure out how to do things for others.”

He left SADD in the late 1980s to handle communications for the campaign of his camp buddy Henri Rauschenbach, a Massachusetts state representative who then successfully won a state Senate seat. That success led to posts with a number of high-profile state political campaigns and culminated with two positions in the Republican administration of Massachusetts Gov. William Weld between 1991 and 1996: assistant secretary of consumer affairs and business regulation, and undersecretary of economic affairs. In the latter post, he was responsible for international trade and investment, travel and tourism, film and video development, and managing the state’s marketing and advertising programs for business development. Extensive travel included leading a multistate trade delegation to Israel and Jordan.

Although he felt tremendously fortunate to work for Weld and learned a lot about some unfamiliar fields, a year after Wallace’s 1995 election as SADD chairman he left state government and became a vice president with ML Strategies LLC, a consulting group associated with a national law firm. He launched his own Summit Communications three years later.

In 2001, however, as Summit was beginning to flourish, Wallace was recruited for both a senior management position with a company that staged major business conferences and a senior-level communications post with a major trade organization in Washington, D.C. When he sought advice, the first few friends he called told him he’d be absolutely crazy to turn down either job, if offered.

Then he called a New York business executive, a friend he’d met at the Cape Cod Sea Camps.

“Are you crazy?” his friend asked.

“I know, you’re going to tell me I have to take one of them,” Wallace replied.

“No, I’m going to tell you you’d be crazy to take either one,” his friend said.

“Why?”

“Because you have what most people would kill for.”

“What’s that?” Wallace asked.

“A successful career in business, government and politics, and at the same time you’re able to pursue something you feel passionate about: working with kids.”

 

IT WAS, WALLACE SAYS, A SEMINAL MOMENT—and good advice whether you’re a college student, a recent graduate or a recent retiree. “They were wonderful opportunities, but I would have missed the chance to continue trying to make a contribution to America’s youth and families, he says.

“At the end of the day, following something you are passionate about is what’s going to make you feel good about yourself and help you grow as an individual.”

Bruce E. Beans is a contributing writer based in Warrington, Pa.

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