By Rob Glidden
The annual “Red Ribbon Rally” returned for its 22nd year, inviting Southington students of all ages to declare their opposition to drug use.
The rally is usually held on the town green, but rainy weather moved it indoors to the auditorium at nearby Derynoski Elementary School. The crowd easily filled the seats and cheers and laughter sometimes threatened to drown out the speakers.
“I’m proud of every student in our schools who is saying ‘I don’t need it. I don’t want it. Get it away from me,’” said Reverend Victoria Triano, who has served as the master of ceremonies at the event for years.
The annual event, put on by the Southington Drug Task Force, is typically but has a somber origin. It ties in with the national Red Ribbon program, which originated in 1988 to honor the memory of murdered drug enforcement agent Enrique Camarena. At Camarena’s funeral, family and friends wore red ribbons to honor his commitment to keeping dangerous substances away from communities.
Numerous student groups and athletic teams took to the stage during the rally, all proclaiming that their interests were more rewarding than drug use.
“Instead of doing drugs, I’d rather spend time with my friends,” said Leanne Raymond, the current Junior Miss Southington.
Natalie Nyerick, of the Southington High School Key Club, told the crowd that “we would rather volunteer and help out than do drugs.”
The theme of “we have better things to do” has been consistent among students through the last few years of the Rally, but many speakers also made an appeal to parents to urge them to stay engaged in the daily lives of their children. Trish Kenefick, a teacher at DePaolo Middle School and one of the leaders of the Drug Task Force, said parents are “the glue for a drug free community.”
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Erardi reminded the crowd that, at the same time as the rally, the cafeteria at Derynoski was hosting a meeting of the Parents 4 A Change support group, filled with parents coping with the trauma of a child struggling with substance abuse.
“Sometimes great young adults can still make bad decisions,” he said. “It’s much easier to stay off drugs than it is to get off drugs.”