As Carter Huber, 20, walked the streets of East Hastings in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside, his eyes were wide open.
He's one of four hockey players from the Oilers Junior A hockey team from Okotoks, Alta., who spent two days in the city this past summer as part of Project Keep Straight.
A lot of the things that we saw, heard and smelled were things that I'd never experienced before," says Huber. "
It was a real eye-opener for me about what can actually happen if you make some bad decisions."
Project Keep Straight is a peer-to-peer drug-awareness program for youth created by the non-profit organization Odd Squad Productions, which is run by active and retired police officers from Vancouver.
The players were brought to Vancouver by two members of the Okotoks RCMP Crime Reduction Unit, Cst. Jeffrey Girard and Cpl. Darryl Dawkins. While there, they got a crash course on drugs and gangs unlike anything they'd heard before.
The message was very real and very blunt," says Girard. "
After that, we literally walked the streets of East Hastings, where they saw what they just learned, stepping over used needles and even witnessing people inject controlled substances."
Escorted by police, they spoke with those they met along the way who were more than willing to share their stories about how they ended up addicted to drugs and living on the streets.
Everyone had their own unique story," says Huber. "
To think it can't happen to you is just not true. When you're making those decisions at a young age, whether it's to try alcohol or marijuana, those small decisions can lead to some pretty big consequences."
Through previous Keep Straight initiatives, hockey players and police have brought what they've learned to local schools with excellent results. "
Kids hang on every word because they look up to the players," says Girard.
Now, back at home, Huber and his peers along with Girard and Dawkins, are sharing that message in the hope of keeping kids off drugs.
I believe this experience and sharing this experience with peers is the most effective teaching method there is when it comes to educating youth about the effects of drugs," says Dawkins.