October 23-28, communities across the country observed Red Ribbon Week, the oldest and largest prevention program in the United States. The Hamilton Area Community Coalition spearheaded the program in Hamilton, NY, and mobilized the community in support of drug free kids. Hamilton Mayor Ruthann Loveless showed Village support for the project by signing a proclamation which officially declared October 23-28, 2017, as Red Ribbon Week in Hamilton. The proclamation states, “The Village of Hamilton values the health and safety of all our citizens; and substance abuse is particularly damaging to one of our most valuable resources, our children.” The proclamation goes on to applaud individual and community responsibility concerning substance abuse and supports community participation in observance of the week.
Events during Red Ribbon Week focused on rewarding young people in middle and high school for making positive life choices and choosing to stay drug, alcohol and tobacco free. The week began with a kick-off assembly at Hamilton Central School on Monday morning, which recognized local community members who fight drug abuse every day. HCS students from the Hamilton Coalition Youth Team program introduced each community member and explained how they served our community and thanked them for their service. In attendance were members from the Hamilton Police Department, SOMAC Ambulance Corps, Community Memorial Hospital, the National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, and the Hamilton Area Community Coalition. HCS Superintendent, Dr. Anael Alston, inspired students to practice positive self-talk, and to believe in their own unlimited potential. Dr. Alston led the students in a rousing drug free cheer and encouraged students to celebrate living drug free by dancing to their classroom!
HACC student leaders organized spirit days, each day with a different drug-free theme to inspire positive life choices and illustrate that you can still have fun while living drug free! Students who participated in spirit days could visit the “Red Ribbon Store” in the school hallway and pick up a prize. HACC Program Coordinator, and organizer of Red Ribbon Week, Melissa Cassulis, hosted the Red Ribbon Store and created a party atmosphere during lunch each day. “Our kids need to be reminded how much they are valued, respected, and supported by the adults in their community. This week, I had the opportunity to represent those caring adults in a very hands-on way, and enjoyed making positive connections with the teens.” Based on national research, supportive adults are an important protective factor in the development of young people. The HACC continues to build that sense of support throughout the Hamilton community. “I believe in high-fives and fist-bumps,” continues Cassulis. “I believe that a genuine smile has the power to change someone’s day and empower a child to believe they can succeed.”
Throughout the week, students had opportunity to participate in fun activities such as online QR code quizzes hidden around the school, making paracord bracelets with Sarah Freedman from Roger’s Environmental Center in Sherburne, NY, and applying temporary tattoos supporting a drug free lifestyle.
On Wednesday, fifteen student leaders from HCS attended the Madison County SADD Leadership Conference in Oneida, NY, and heard from local therapist, Marla Velky-Reger. and national speaker Ty Sells, from Youth to Youth International. Ty Sells brought a message of empowerment and positivity, and Marla led the teens in creating action plans they could bring back and implement in their schools. Later that afternoon, Ty Sells spoke to Hamilton Central School students in grades 6-12. His message, “Clear the Air: Dispelling Marijuana Myths” was especially powerful, and drew a steady dialogue from the audience. Ty listened as students listed seven typical arguments used in favor of marijuana use, then worked down the list one by one using logic to dismiss the case for each argument. Students responded to his no-nonsense message and his commitment not to use traditional scare tactics. “I really liked Ty Sells because he was easy to understand and he didn’t try to scare us,” says Alysia Miller, grade 10. “What he said made sense and I think people will remember it.”
A main goal of Red Ribbon week activities was to encourage students to sign a pledge to stay drug, alcohol, and tobacco free. By Friday afternoon, 200 middle and high school students had signed the pledge! The pledges covered the entire wall in the main hallway at HCS, a powerful visual for students each day.
The Hamilton community as a whole showed overwhelming support of this Red Ribbon Week project and rallied around support of drug free kids. Students who signed the drug free pledge were awarded a red wristband in school. The wristband was their ticket to discounts and special deals at downtown businesses and restaurants. Red Ribbon Week specials were offered at Colgate Inn, No. 10 Tavern, La Iguana, Hamilton Movie Theater, Oliveri’s Pizzeria, Colgate Bookstore, 8 Fresh, and Roger’s Environmental Center. Other businesses who showed their support were the Hamilton Public Library, Maxwell’s Chocolates, Mid York Weekly and Arts at the Palace. “The Red Ribbon Week idea was brought up at the monthly Hamilton Business Alliance meeting, mostly as an update on what HACC was currently working on,” says Cassulis. “Business owners jumped at the chance to show support for our teens, and the response was overwhelming! I was getting stopped on the street by community members who wanted to get involved and show support. It has been an incredible example of the true strength and spirit of this Hamilton community.”
One of the biggest community supporters of Red Ribbon week was Colgate University Athletics, and Nathalie Carter, Associate Athletics Director for Marketing and Promotions. Carter organized a Red Ribbon Weekend, and students with the red wristbands received free admission to the Men’s Ice Hockey games that weekend! Parents received complimentary admission as well by signing a pledge to support drug free choices in their homes. Colgate recognized the HACC and it’s youth program on the ice during intermission – a huge honor for the teens involved and a special experience rewarding them for their leadership.
The overwhelming success of Red Ribbon week would not have been possible without the support of Hamilton Central School leadership, teachers, and staff. Dr. Alston, district superintendent, and Bill Dowsland, Principal, led the project with enthusiasm, and middle and high school teachers showed their full support. Energy remained high throughout the week, and students responded to the extra encouragement and attention. Red Ribbon Week built a solid foundation for future prevention projects, and contributed to supporting the school’s 2017 theme by helping to make this, indeed, the “Best Year Ever.” •