SOUTHINGTON- Town leaders and students from school organizations and sports teams gathered on the town green Tuesday for the annual Red Ribbon Rally, with youth vowing to stay drug and alcohol free.
The event began with crowds of children gathering before the stage as dance music blasted out. Students from peer advocacy groups passed out candles to be lit later. Kids would also sign the red ribbon as they made their pledges to themselves and their loved ones. The Red Ribbon Rally was established by parents nationwide in response to the murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Enrique Camarena in 1985. Its purpose is to show that drugs can kill and to encourage participation in drug-free activities.
The stage itself bore encouraging messages like “Celebrate Red Ribbon Week not just for a week but for life.”
Community groups and leaders took the stage to offer their own words of advice, encouragement, and warning.
Trish Keneflick, who heads the Southington Drug Task Force sponsoring the event, encouraged kids to cheer for themselves, their local police and fire departments and police explorers who she invited up to speak.
“The more you use the more you lose, don’t do drugs,” the Police Explorers said in unison.
Keneflick then introduced emcee and town councilor Victoria Triano.
“Even though we have been doing this for a long time, tonight is a very important night,” she said. “Tonight we all have to make a decision about how our lives will be. Tonight I encourage you to live a life that is drug-free.”
Following the singing of the national anthem by a student peer advocate, Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan reminded kids that “actions speak louder than words.”
“When you say you were not going to do drugs you can’t just say it,” he said.
Brian Goralski, chairman of the Board of Education urged kids not to lie in front of their parents and their community.
“One mistake, one bad choice can have terrible consequences,” he said.
Goralski then introduced Christine Gagnon, a town resident whose son was caught with marijuana in high school. He was expelled and kicked off the football team and was later in and out of rehabilitation centers and mental hospitals, taking harder drugs like heroin. Fifteen months ago he died in his sleep with Fentanyl in his system, leaving behind a daughter.
“He was one of 72,000 people in this country who died from drug use last year and one of 1,017 in this state,” she said. “Remember if anyone hands you drugs you are playing Russian roulette.”
Councilor Dawn Miceli encouraged parents to coach their children about what to do if they’re offered drugs. She acknowledged that it can be awkward to refuse a friend, so she encouraged them to have lines prepared like “Sorry, but I want to be in the best shape that I can for the big game” or “Sorry but I have a lot to do this afternoon.”
“Be proactive and think in advance,” said Miceli. “Make the most of each day and live life to the fullest.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.