Friendship Christian School senior Cole Cottrell is on a mission to conquer teen alcoholism through the nonprofit Change Lives Crusade.
The Lebanon native founded the organization earlier this month after seeing how underage drinking and peer pressure affects area students, and hopes to grow it into a teen-led outreach effort.
“These things exist for adults, but nothing really grabs the attention of teens,” he said. “In order to address teens, and really in order to have any sort of impact on teens, you have to go to the teen. You can’t reference them or count of them to go looking for it themselves, because most teens aren’t going to do that.”
Cottrell laid the groundwork for the organization by building a website and social media presence with resources, blog posts and more. He reached hundreds of viewers and dozens of followers on the first day, which encouraged him to move forward.
“I knew people would support the cause and I knew people would get behind it, but I didn’t expect the level of commitment,” he said. “I expected a lot of questioning … but it was extremely positive and I was overwhelmed, to be honest. I made sure to personally text everybody that has followed me, which took a lot of time.”
Some of those texts led to personal phone conversations with friends battling alcoholism. Cottrell said starting those conversations and understanding why people turn to drinking is a key part of the Change Lives Crusade.
“We’re all human and we all have struggles and we all have stuff that’s hard to deal with, and I found that across the board there’s nobody that’s not looking to make themselves better,” he said. “It’s just a matter of giving them a platform and giving them the resources they need to be better … if you’re willing to listen and if you’re willing to put yourself out there for other people, people listen to it.”
Cottrell said one of the most important things is making sure teenagers know the risks. Many people are exposed to alcohol for the first time in high school and could be more likely to abuse it.
“Alcoholism, obviously, is a known depressant,” he said. “I’ve heard several stories now from kids, and I’ve seen it, where it’s almost like an escape. I believe adults use it for a lot of the same reasons, but I think when you start playing an escape game as a teenager you start running from your problems, running from your responsibilities and you really just set up a foundation for your life.”
In the next few weeks, Cottrell plans to start selling items through the nonprofit with the goal of both raising awareness and funding larger outreach projects.
“I plan on launching into apparel and things like that,” he said. “I am a teen, so I hope to be able to make stuff that’s pretty catchy and eye-opening and looks good … after that, depending on how big it gets then I would branch into a donation foundation for teenager scholarships, little events to help with teenagers.”
Other goals for the Change Lives Crusade include public speaking engagements and donations to school systems. Cottrell welcomes the chance to make a change in other communities but wants the main focus to be on Wilson County.
“As a local, I need my local support and these are the kids I know,” he said. “It’s a lot more personal when you’re local. I’d love to go as big as it can get, but the reason I’m focusing so hard on local is because I really want to help the people I care about the most.”