By JEN CARDINES
“We’re standing at the biggest pep rally in town!” town councilor Tom Lombardi yelled to an enthusiastic crowd. “But this isn’t a game, it’s real life.”
Lombardi was one of many speakers that addressed nearly a thousand people at the 26th annual Red Ribbon Rally on Oct. 13.
Town officials, sports teams, and school organizations all spoke at the rally, taking a pledge not to do drugs. Rev. Victoria Triano, also a Town Councilor, served as the master of ceremonies for the rally.
The Southington Drug Task Force (DTF), led by DePaolo Middle School social studies teacher Trish Kenefick, holds this annual event for middle and high school students. It’s an opportunity for the community to gather and take steps to improve health and safety.
During Board of Education chair Brian Goralski’s speech, he mentioned that Southington High School (SHS) will be implementing breathalyzers at their events such as school dances and proms to ensure that no student enters the event intoxicated.
Town Manager Garry Brumback recognized the students in attendance as those who steer away from drugs, but noted that those feeling alone or hurt may not.
“Find somebody who isn’t here, and be their diversion,” he said. “Nothing is as important as your safety and well-being.”
DTF member Sandy VanValkenburgh said that the students sign a red ribbon that will be presented to the Town Council at their next meeting. “By signing it, they are saying, ‘I elect not to do drugs’,” she said.
Students on the stage from each organization described activities they would rather do than drugs. The SHS football and baseball teams threw balls into the crowd that had messages on them about abstaining from drug use.
The evening closed with a silent tribute to those who have lost their lives to this serious epidemic, as everyone stood, encircling the town green, holding a lit candle.
The rising heroin and opiate epidemic has been a topic of interest at many local functions. At the Southington political candidate forum last week, the first question addressed to the candidates regarded the drug epidemic. Wheeler Clinic and Bristol Hospital are also holding an event at the Southington Public Library on Oct. 26, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., to provide the community with resources and support.
The Red Ribbon Rally was another example of people coming together to face this epidemic and encourage people of all ages to “say no” to drugs.
Photos by AIREN MILLER