In pleasant weather, Kellie Levans can be seen sitting outside her record store in a Packers chair, saying “hi” to shoppers strolling along Pine Street in Burlington and chatting with small groups of teens.
It’s the teens she most wants to talk with. They’re the ones she wants to help stop using drugs, and prevent from ever trying any.
“As you know, (there’s) a large opiate problem here,” said Levans, who owns Rocking Fun Music Records & Teen Outreach. “What I found out is the opiate problem starts at home, (with children) sneaking their parents’ (medications). Every parent thinks it’s not gonna be their kid.”
And Levans should know. She once was one of them.
Her daughter, Courtnie Schmidt, now 23, is in the Racine County Jail from a drug case. She said her daughter began using heroin after starting to use drugs in 2009.
Levans opened the shop and outreach mission at 549 N. Pine St. on Sept. 11, 2010, in large part, she said, because of her daughter’s drug addiction.
“I want to prevent this from happening to someone else,” she said. “This is a huge problem with the heroin epidemic. It’s trendy to look like a heroin addict and it’s trendy to survive an overdose. They use it as a thrill-seek.”
Music as an alternative
But Levans, 44, said she tries to use music as an alternative to drugs and alcohol.
“We use music as a therapeutic communication device,” she said. “The strong hold of drugs and alcohol in our community is so strong, and there’s no place (for teens) to go. We do cater to the street kids.”
While she sells records and other items from her vintage music shop, she also offers a newly opened recording studio in the basement. Levans said the shop and recording studio cater to those younger than 18, and teens may record their first song for free.
“It becomes an information center,” Levans said, explaining that she talks with teens and young adults about troubles in their lives, and may refer them to organizations where they may find help.
She’s also contacted police in some cases, she said. But many teens open up to her, Levans said.
“A lot of kids look at parents as their enemies,” she said. “I tell ’em, ‘They’re not here to be your friends, they’re here to make sure you turn out to be a responsible individual.’
“The music they listen to is so important. I feel the lyrics in music is so completely influential. (Some are) so explicit they don’t know what’s right or wrong. Half the problem with our children is they don’t know what’s right or wrong — it’s all acceptable (online),” Levans said. But, “parents are the first teachers.”
A place to go
Levans said she hopes to reach teens and young adults so they turn away from drugs or never start using. An overdose very well could end their lives, just as it did this summer for one Racine County teen.
Mirandda Booher, 19, was found dead on July 30 in Burlington, according to investigators, and her death is believed to be from a heroin overdose. She had previous stints in jail and rehab, her family has said.
Sitting in Levans’ shop recently, Jesse Clausen, 21, grew emotional talking about Booher, his former girlfriend — the pain of her death still so fresh.
Clausen, of the City of Burlington, said while he’s never done heroin, Booher was one of several people he knows who has tried the highly addictive, illegal drug. But having a place to go like Levans’ shop can help.
“You can come down here and waste your time on the drums instead of going out and getting high,” Clausen said. “They don’t have nothing in Burlington for us to do. You go to the park and the police are there. You’ll get a ticket for skateboarding in the park parking lot.”
But it’s different at “Aunt Kellie’s,” he said.
“It’s a place you can take your mind off stuff,” Clausen said. “It can get you a future.”
In time, Levans said she hopes to raise enough money to buy a bigger teen outreach center, “where we can have hands-on music teachers for free and in-house” alcohol and drug abuse counselors.