A nationally recognized and respected drug and substance prevention specialist and youth speaker will be at two Van Buren schools this month.

Ray Lozano will speak to Butterfield Trail Middle School sixth graders from 8:15 to 9 a.m. Monday, May 14, eighth graders from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. and seventh graders from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m.

On Tuesday, May 15, he will speak to the green and gray team at Van Buren High School Freshman Academy from 9 to 9:45 a.m., the green and white team from 10 to 10:45 a.m. and the green and black team from 12:25 to 1:10 p.m.

For more than 30 years, Lozano has educated and entertained thousands of students in hundreds of middle schools and high schools across the United States.

Fort Smith Elks Lodge No. 341, in partnership with the Van Buren Police Department, 12th/21st Judicial District Drug Task Force, Van Buren School District and Fort Smith Public Schools, and with the assistance of the Arkansas State Police and Fort Smith Police Department, is bringing Lozano to Van Buren and Fort Smith schools on behalf of the National Elks Drug Awareness Program.

“Van Buren Police Department took the lead in partnering with the Elks to bring this dynamic educator to the area,” said Police Chief Jamie Hammond. “Working closely with the Van Buren School District and Fort Smith Public Schools, we saw the need for a quality nationally recognized speaker to come and talk with our youth.”

Hammond said the 12th/21st Judicial District Drug Task Force, which is acutely familiar with the drug problems in the area, was brought in to facilitate and assist with this program.

“DTF Commander Paul Smith gladly provided resources and coordination for this much needed public service,” Hammond said. “Fort Smith Police Department school resource officers at each of the schools were available for students to interact with and for a resource for the students. Arkansas State Police, without hesitation, offered any and all assistance to make this program a success.”

Fort Smith Public Schools and Van Buren School District, from day one, were instrumental in giving the approval, making necessary arrangements, and ensuring that all went well for a successful and meaningful program, Hammond said.

“This event is an important approach to our youth to begin a conversation and provide relevant, up-to-date information our youth can use to make positive life choices,” he said. “The junior high programs will be tailored towards age specific drug topics and will address opioids and prescription drugs – relevant for this day and age of the opioid scourge.”

Hammond said bringing a nationally recognized speaker into the community is an opportunity to let children and the community know that law enforcement cares and “we get it.”

“There is a problem, we are not avoiding the conversation and we want our community, family and friends to engage and confront the problem and work side by side to solve and reduce the drugs in our community,” Hammond said. “A fight together is well worth the effort.”