"Learning how to say 'no' and not lose my friends." That's the most important skill Jessica Kaifesh says she learned from a substance-abuse-prevention program offered by Parker Hannifin Corp., Cleveland. Just nine years old, Jessica is one of 34 youngsters who benefited from Parker Hannifin's program that teaches parents to talk to kids about drugs and other risky behaviors. The program culminates in role-playing exercises in which the child learns how to refuse drugs while maintaining a friendly, open relationship with his or her peers. "The parenting magazines tell you to talk to your children about drugs, but they don't say how," says Jessica's mother, Marien, who is manager of human-resources information services at the company. "The K.I.D.S. program really does help do just that." K.I.D.S., short for Kids in a Drug-Free Society, is an experimental program being conducted in five U.S. cities. It is sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J. Parker Hannifin, a global provider of motion and control technologies, is one of a growing group of companies to introduce the program in their firms. "It's good for kids, good for the parents, and it makes good business sense too," says Dan Garey, vice president, human resources. "When you do these things for kids, hopefully they'll stay out of trouble, so it's good for the community. I also think it's good for the employees. The less stress they have in their lives, the more they'll be here and focused on their work." The K.I.D.S. program was introduced with a letter from Garey to employees at the headquarters location. The letter included some worrisome statistics on drug use -- for example, while 21% of U.S. parents think their children may have tried marijuana, 41% of the kids themselves admit to using it, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The letter invited parents of children in the 9-to-13 age group to participate in the program. "Getting 25 employees, the number suggested as optimum by K.I.D.S., was absolutely no problem," says Kaifesh, "and attendance was excellent." The K.I.D.S. program was conducted over five, two-hour sessions on company time, including a company-sponsored lunch. An employee-assistance-provider (EAP) professional, teamed with a Parker Hannifin employee, taught the course. (Parker, like other companies, outsources employee counseling and rehabilitation programs to an EAP.) Both instructors were trained at K.I.D.S.' expense at a one-week course in Williamsburg, Va. "The EAP person provides the professional expertise, while the Parker person makes sure it all fits into the company culture," says Ron Sconyers, president and CEO of K.I.D.S., Yorktown, Va. After each session, the employee "trains" his or her child at home in a family-meeting environment, the best setting for bonding and communication, says K.I.D.S. Parents tell their sons and daughters exactly how they feel about drug use, and children are encouraged to help plan family activities, learn responsibility by taking on rewarding tasks around the house, and participate in role-playing activities to reinforce the refusal skills. In one of the most powerful exercises, according to Kaifesh, parents discuss with their child the three most basic things they want for them -- for instance, health, success, and happiness. Then they ask, how do alcohol or drugs fit into any of these goals we have for you? Parker Hannifin in Cleveland is currently signing up another 25 employees for a September session, and plans to spread the program to its facilities across the U.S. According to Garey there will be a presentation on the K.I.D.S. program at the company's annual in-house human-resources conference that will encourage attendees to get on board in the cities where K.I.D.S. is offered. "The program has very broad appeal. In the first class, everyone from secretaries to clerks to people on the executive payroll participated," he says. The K.I.D.S. program is offered to corporations as a public service by PRSA, which has collaborated with the University of Washington, Seattle, the program's developer. In January K.I.D.S. began rolling out the initiative as a two-year pilot program to companies in Indianapolis, Atlanta, Portland, Cleveland, and Dallas. Parker Hannifin was the first to complete a session, and since has been joined by industry leaders such as Eli Lilly & Co., Electronic Data Systems Corp., and American Airlines Inc. The goal is to train 12,750 employee/parents in these five cities by November 2001. Along the way, PRSA is deploying its communications expertise to help promote the program within participating firms and to raise awareness of the companies and the program through media coverage. Parker Hannifin's participation in the program was reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, says Sconyers. "Parker Hannifin has been very vocal, not to pat themselves on the back but because they believe in what they are doing," he notes. "Parker, nationally, is leading the way. It's a win-win for everyone." While the K.I.D.S. program is offered by corporations to its employees, the effort is aimed squarely at youngsters. Research by Partnership for a Drug-Free America shows that children who learn from their parents at an early age about the risks of drugs are significantly less likely to use drugs than children who don't receive such parental guidance. In fact, 74% of fourth graders polled by the Partnership say they wish their parents would talk with them more about the dangers of drugs. "[Going through the program] helped me because now I can talk to my mom easier about this, and with my family," says Jessica Kaifesh.