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The Power of Conversation: A Refuse To Use Dialogue Night Report

Large banner with the RTU logo on it with hundreds of bubbles floating by in front of it.This year, Dialogue Night, a hallmark event of RTU programming, was hosted by The Collaborative’s team of school-based reps at multiple events throughout the month of January.

RTU is a youth substance misuse prevention and asset-building educational program that incentivizes the healthy choice of not using drugs and alcohol. This year's RTU program focuses on building a "Community of Preventionists," grounded in the idea that everyone in the community plays a part in substance misuse prevention. 

RTU participants reviewed a presentation and slide notes alongside their caring adults in advance of their Dialogue Night session to prepare them for the work of an intergenerational conversation about vaping. The evenings began with a review of the data on vape device use by middle and high school students in Bennington County. The attendees were then divided into two groups, participants and caring adults, to further discuss the data, their perspectives on vaping in our community, and possible solutions to the challenge of widespread vaping by our youth. The groups then came together to share what they had learned, and what they wished the other group knew about their experiences and beliefs around this difficult topic.

A hand-drawn image with colorful splotches that says "Love yourself"These conversations address an urgent and pressing need in our community; according to the 2019 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 39% of high school students in Bennington County vape every day, and 21% of Bennington County middle school students report having vaped at least once. Many participant/caring adult pairs who completed The Collaborative’s event response survey cite insecurity and efforts to relieve stress and anxiety as primary triggers that drive young people to start vaping, even though e-cigarette use is known to worsen stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Despite the name, e-cigarettes do not produce vapor, but rather an aerosol composed of nicotine (found in over 99% of vaping liquids) and many other harmful and toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc on the developing brain.

The good news is that Bennington County Youth are looking to be part of the solution. The 2019 YRBS data reveals that 49% of Bennington County high school students tried to quit all forms of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, over the past year, and 81% of Bennington County middle school students believe that it is wrong or very wrong for someone their age to vape. In the words of one participant/caring adult pair following their Dialogue Night event, “Education about risks is important from an early age, as well as making sure adolescents have resources available if they are addicted and would like to quit. We need to work together, adults and youth, to make a change in the culture of vaping.”

Dialogue Night is the fourth of 5 events that participants and their caring adults engage in between September and March. These events promote developmental assets such as accountability, integrity, and responsibility and educate youth on the impact of substance misuse. In return for their efforts, participants are able to choose a season pass from Stratton Mountain, Magic Mountain, Viking Nordic Center, or Riley Rink at Hunter Park. Successful completion of the entire program can also earn participants a pass to the Dorset Theatre Festival.

This year The Collaborative plans to launch spring/summer RTU programming for the first time, with new incentive partners rising to the occasion to reward the efforts of youth in our community to pursue health. Registration for this new program season will begin in Spring. Learn more on our Refuse To Use webpage or email

Lauren Ingersoll, Ludlow Project Assistant

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