Over 400 people packed the auditorium at Derynoski Elementary School this week, coming together to celebrate a drug-free lifestyle and encourage others to take part in helping promote a drug free community as part of the town’s annual Red Ribbon Rally.
It was little consolation, however, to the smaller group of 38 residents from across the state sitting less than 100 yards away dealing with the pain that drug addiction can afflict on a family during the monthly Parents-4-A-Change meeting.
The 22nd Annual Red Ribbon Rally, hosted by the Southington Drug Task Force in partnership with Southington schools and organizations from throughout the community, proved to once again be a draw for local parents and students. The goal of the program is to encourage the community to come together and help create a drug-free atmosphere and support smart decision making.
“There hasn’t been a more difficult for our young people than what they are facing today with the talk of legalization of questionable substances,” said Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback. “Programs and efforts like this reinforce the message that we don’t need drugs to be happy and with a drug-free community, everyone can be successful.”
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The program included presentations from multiple groups from DePaolo Middle School, Kennedy Middle School, Southington High School, STEPS and the Southington YMCA as parents, mentors and students alike joined together to reinforce the message.
Students took it upon themselves to make signs and promote other activities including sports, charity, music and more instead of doing drugs.
“Instead of doing drugs, I’d rather be spending my time in the community and just enjoying my life with friends,” said Leann Raymond, a student at Southington High School.
The Red Ribbon Rally began in 1985, the creation of a community in mourning after a Drug Enforcement Agency officer Enrique (Kiki) Camarena was killed by drug traffickers while working in Mexico. The drug traffickers had kidnapped him as he was leaving the office to meet his wife for lunch. He was found a month later, tortured to death.
At the end of Monday’s program, those in attendance joined together in a circle to honor his memory by singing God Bless America, listening to Taps and observing a moment of silence.
School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. noted that while the program was touching and a tribute to the community efforts, many in attendance had been fortunate not to witness first-hand what one bad decision by a good person could lead to.
“On the opposite end of the building tonight, there are parents from across New England who’ve come, frozen in fear, because their family has been adversely affected by drugs,” Erardi said. “It’s much easier to stay off drugs than to get off them. If you ask, I’m sure they will tell you that when the moment comes you need to have enough trust in yourself to simply say no.”
In the Derynoski cafeteria, at the same moment that the crowds were gathering across the building, parents and addicts were gathering together to discuss what went wrong and how to fight back against drug addiction and the negative effects it has on entire families.
Mary Marcuccio, founder of Parents-4-A-Change, read an emotional letter from a once promising young man. The now 23-year-old incarcerated in state prison talked about his struggles and the desire to change, as well as the red flags that if readily available may have led to his getting help sooner.
The 23-year-old, who wrote to the group in an effort to help others find happiness again, took full responsibility for his actions and detailed signs of drug abuse including constant lying, the creation of people and stories, a general apathy towards everything, sickness and irregular sleep patterns.
Marcuccio said she’s heard too many tales like his and although she believes a promise to stay clean is good in concept, it is vital that more be done to educate the public about the red flags.
“I’m happy to hear so many attended the rally,” she said. “My concern, of course, is wondering how many of those at the rally will end up at the other end of the building, some in as little as six months to a year.”
Many times, communities find it easier to take a stance of denial that drug abuse is a real problem and label a user as someone who is “bad.” The reality is that in many cases, the user is a good person who made one bad decision that changed their life.
She said she would like to see the community do more for those who have struggled and provide information through networks such as the school system, PTOs, sport organizations and even through mailers provided directly by the town.
“As a parent of a drug user and a Southington resident, I’m very concerned that the red flags are just not as readily available to parents as they should be,” she said.
For more information, visit the Parents-4-A-Change website by clicking the link provided.
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