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Teen’s anti-drug message hits area billboards

Michelle Banda billboards 028

Michelle Banda, of Des Plaines, was surprised when an anti-drug message she created late last year won praise from her classmates and community leaders.

The 18-year-old was even more stunned when she learned the slogan, “Live better, not lesser,” won a national alcohol and drug prevention contest and would be splashed on billboards, bus shelters and convenience store posters across the area. This week, the powerful four words popped on billboards along Interstate 294 and Interstate 90.

“I’m excited and really happy,” said Banda, Maine West senior who is still in disbelief over the news. “I just wanted people to know they should live better and pursue better things in life.”

A close-up of a billboard near Interstate 294 and River Road featuring Michelle Banda's anti-drug message. (Jennifer Delgado/Tribune)

As part of a one-day activity with students at District 207 high schools last year, the Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation asked teenagers to share inspiring words they live by and vote on which student had the most powerful message. The non-profit organization, which serves Des Plaines, Park Ridge and Niles, strives to help students stay away from alcohol and drugs and avoid peer pressure.

Out of 76 entries, the foundation sent three mottos to the Above the Influence media campaign, which uses print, television and radio ads to steer teens away from drugs and alcohol.

Maine Township is one of three communities in Illinois and one of 34 across the United States that submitted winning slogans, said Cheryll DeYoung, communications coordinator for MCYAF. The slogan will stay up on the billboards for about a month.

“I think it’s awesome. It says a lot in such a few number of words,” DeYoung said of Banda’s message. “Kids are in control of their own lives and they can choose whether to live above or below” the influence.

Looking back, Banda, who wants to study art or music in college, said the four words in her slogan just popped in her head. She credits the message, which appears next to a rocket ship soaring upward, to the family values instilled in her as a child. The saying is not just directed toward drugs and alcohol, she added.

“It just applies to everything in life,” she said. “I hope people will go and do what the message says and live their lives the best way possible.”

Banda’s slogan can be seen on billboards at several locations, including Higgins and Elmhurst roads in Elk Grove Village, Interstate 294 and River Road and Interstate 90 and Mannheim Road, both in Des Plaines.

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