As she sits in her brand new office in the Medical Office building, it’s clear that Kate Ward Gaus, the director of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Education center is proud of the work that her office has accomplished in the last year. In the fall of 2015, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board awarded La Salle University a two-year, $39,277 grant to help reduce underage and dangerous drinking among students, particularly off-campus.
Ward-Gaus can proudly list off the many results of the grant including the hiring of another Philadelphia police officer during “high activity” nights of partying and drinking and promotional items used to educate students about their misperceptions of social drinking norms. In addition, the grant pays for ten student workers who can serve as off campus advocates (OCAs).
The OCAs are trained in the misperceptions and realities of college drinking, group facilitation, workshop leadership, among other things. In addition, they lead the trash bashes and outreach with off-campus students to encourage them to drink in safer and smaller circumstances and limit large parties, with respect to both students’ safety and neighbors’ concerns. Ward-Gaus will be hiring five more OCAs for this school year.
While the grant may be new to La Salle, Kate Ward-Gaus is no newcomer to raising awareness and promoting drug and alcohol prevention to young adults. After studying psychology briefly at Catholic University, finishing a degree in education at Temple, she taught sixth grade for two years, but realized traditional classroom instruction was not for her.
“I saw every student who had a behavioral problem, and they got my attention while the rest of the students taught themselves,” she jokes about her brief time as a grade-school teacher.
However, in schools she found her calling. In 1973, as the country began growing aware of the mounting drug and alcohol addiction problems, Sr. Madeleine Boyd founded Shalom, an abuse prevention and education organization in the Catholic schools in Philadelphia.
“Through a family member, I learned about this amazing program in the Catholic high schools,” Ward-Gaus explains. “It seemed perfect for me. It was educational work, with a little bit of psychology, and I applied and got the job.”
She worked at Shalom for seventeen years, receiving a masters degree in counseling and psychology, and supervised for several of the Archdiocesan high schools in Philadelphia including West Catholic, Roman Catholic and St. Huberts. Eventually, she transitioned to higher education and worked at the University of Pennsylvania for 11 years before working at La Salle.
Ward-Gaus laughs as she mentions a quote from St. La Salle, when he later recalled the extraordinary circumstances that led her to work in alcohol and drug abuse prevention. “In an imperceptible way and over a long period of time so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning,” Saint La Salle wrote and she agrees for her own vocation. Ward-Gaus notes how she identifies with the series of steps she didn’t necessarily foresee that led her to finding professional satisfaction in the Lasallian community.
It’s a community she’s grown to love and appreciate over the last ten years. She credits La Salle’s particular emphasis on open communication and community as helpful in preventing harmful drinking practices.
“In terms of smart use of alcohol, La Salle students look out for each other and make sure they’re safe,” she explains, crediting La Salle’s mission-based focus on community. “People are willing to learn and use strategies to enjoy each other’s company and friendships.”
At La Salle, the Alcohol and Other Drugs education center is focused on providing full continuum of care for students. This spectrum ranges from prevention, education, sanctioning for student-write ups, direct counseling and support groups. Ward-Gaus has special pride for her support group for students who have family with addiction problems.
“I’m from a big Irish Catholic family which has its own unique relationship with alcohol,” she says, explaining how her family history influences how she views her job. These groups and services are confidential and private and are designed to help both students who have problems and are in recovery and students who want to prevent themselves from having problems.
Ward-Gaus is also proud to note that La Salle students’ excessive drinking habits have lowered in the last ten years, especially in terms of the increase inthe number of first year students reporting that they are non-drinkers. While these percentages follow a national trend, she also notes that at La Salle, these lowered rates have stabilized for variety of reasons including RA-communication and pre-matriculation programs.
As the new school year begins, Kate Ward-Gaus is excited to continue providing counseling services to La Salle students, correcting misperceptions about alcohol and drug use on campus, and most importantly helping promote students’ overall well-being through resources like guided mindfulness and meditation. Throughout the school year, the features section will provide more information about the resources of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Education Center and the events they host.