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Youths dance to help fight substance abuse

Gage Wilde was separated from his mom for a year.

"It was hard to not see her while she was in treatment," the 13-year-old boy said.

His mom was in treatment for drugs and alcohol. But Gage doesn't resent his mother for not being there during that time.

Gage, along with 25 other youths ranging in age from 7 to 17, performed for nearly 1,000 people at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City Wednesday as part of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors' "Sowing the Seeds of Recovery" conference. The children are part of a new local youth performance group known as Kids Against Drugs and Alcohol.

Gage's mother has been clean for four years now, and he is proud of her for making the change.

"Every time I would go in (her room), she would just not be herself, and now she is just awesome," Gage said of his mother. "She has changed a lot."

His mother, Amy Wilde, graduated in 2007 from the Odyssey House, a nonprofit drug rehabilitation center. She has not only been clean for four years, but also now travels around to schools in Utah with her son to spread the message of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Amy Wilde became a part of KADA with her son because of what it stands for and because it gives "kids somewhere to go."

She believes things might have been different for her if there had been something like this available to her when she was younger.

Now Wilde's son is around friends and people who are familiar with what he experienced. Going out and teaching children at a young age is the most important part, Wilde said. "That is where (education) needs to start, is with the kids."

As a reminder to everyone that change begins with the individual, the children handed out pocket-size mirrors after their performance of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." The mirror cases have the words "change begins with the man in the mirror" written on them.

Wilde said the program has not only helped her but also her son to recover.

"My son wasn't as outgoing as he is now," Wilde said. "You never would have got him up on a stage a few years ago. This has really brought him out of his shell."

Wilde's hope is that the program can grow, parents will join and bring their children and everyone can teach each other.

"We can help them get where they need to be, if someone needs treatment, we can help," Wilde said. "Education is going to be the key, especially for someone that thinks (abusing drugs or alcohol) is just a once in a while thing, and they can learn to be a part of something else."

Wilde has gone further than KADA in her recovery. She is a counselor with The Ark of Little Cottonwood, a drug treatment facility in Sandy.

Gloria Boberg, executive director of The Ark of Little Cottonwood and founder of KADA, said the creation of the program began less than a year ago for a simple reason: It gives the affected children something good to be a part of.

Boberg said the idea came to her while working in treatment. "We get a patient in, and the patient is only part of the problem," Boberg said.

She explained that patients' family members can suffer from co-dependency and have similar addictions, and some can become sicker than the actual patient.

Boberg said, "Kids were impacted and affected (and asking) 'how come Mom is in treatment and Dad is over here getting therapy, but where am I going?' " Boberg figured KADA would be a good place for children to be. KADA does not do actual therapy as part of the program, but Boberg said the education "is really a healing event for the family."

"They chose their songs, and they chose the dance moves, they did it on their own, so I am absolutely amazed," Boberg said.

The NAADAC nationwide conference runs through Friday and includes workshops discussing drug prevention, addiction history, alternative therapies and faith-based approaches.