News and Events

SWAT Skills Can Last a Lifetime!
March 19, 2019

This story is about a young man, Pedro Bernabe, his recollection of middle school, and how SWAT skills he learned as a teen impacted his decisions later in life. He moved to another home and another school in the middle of the 6th grade. He was the new kid. The other students had established friendships and he had no one. English was a new language. Other students thought his clothes and shoes were strange, so they bullied and teased him for being different.

  Pedro did not fit in. He wasn’t like the other students. He had little in common with other kids, so making friends was hard.  It was a lonely existence until he made one friend who talked about a club called SWAT. Going to SWAT was interesting. The SWAT Advisor, Mrs. Blanchard was kind, but firm. He would skip class and go talk with her to get away from the classroom and its bullies. She gave him the support he needed and sent him back to class with new hope and confidence. He was learning new coping skills, to resist the pressure to use tobacco, to be himself, to lead the SWAT Club when asked, and so he continued to participate in SWAT. SWAT skill building and the Club’s anti-tobacco activities made him feel like he belonged to something bigger than himself. He participated in SWAT for two and a half years with Mrs. Blanchard.    

High school brought on a new set of challenges and problems. Finding himself in another new environment left him vulnerable. Peers pressured him to try marijuana and cigarettes. With his knowledge and skills learned from SWAT he resisted tobacco and marijuana, as well as alcohol and other drugs. Nevertheless, he fell in with a bad group and started doing things that were not good for his future.

After his daughter was born, he realized she could grow up to marry someone like him, and was this current life what he wanted for her or for himself? On his 22nd birthday, once again using his coping skills, he decided to change his life’s direction. Pedro began taking human services college classes. Soon after completing his degree he began to work for a substance abuse treatment facility. He was quick to realize that 90 percent of people addicted to drugs and alcohol had consumed tobacco at an early age. It could have happened to him! It did not because of the skills and knowledge he learned in SWAT.

He continued to work in the field of addiction and in the summer of 2018 realized that the day/night addiction programs near Vero Beach had closed their doors. With determination, he assembled a team of professionals and business partners to open a substance abuse treatment facility in his home community of Vero Beach.

In order to promote Phoenix Rising Wellness services, Pedro made appointments with healthcare organizations all over town including the Department of Health in Vero Beach. While waiting, he approached a familiar figure. It was Mrs. Blanchard who is still with the Department of Health and still facilitates the SWAT Clubs at Oslo and Sebastian River middle schools. Much to her delight, he surprised her, and reminded her that she was his SWAT adviser all those years ago.

Since then, Pedro met with the Tobacco Prevention Specialist, became a member of the Tobacco Free Partnership, and was introduced to the anti-drug coalition SAFIR (Substance Abuse Free Indian River). He has accepted the position of chairing SAFIR’s Marijuana subcommittee with a focus on educating minors and the public to prevent the abuse of marijuana in our community.

Today Phoenix Rising Wellness has been open for 9 months. The Director, Pedro Bernabe and his staff are completely dedicated to helping people who suffer with addiction and need assistance. Pedro says, “I would like to continue working closely with my community in the years to come, investing time and energy in prevention work; including what worked for me which is remaining tobacco free.”

Pictured are Marie Blanchard, SWAT Advisor and her former SWAT student, Pedro Bernabe.