Red Ribbon Week celebration focuses on keeping youths safe

CAST’s message: Enjoy life without drugs

MILFORD – Making connections.

That’s what Monica Gal­lant was happy to see hap­pen between families and organizations that help keep youths healthy, safe, and alcohol- and drug-free during a recent event.

The Red Ribbon Week Community Celebration, held Saturday, Oct. 29, featured games and priz­es, costumes, an opportu­nity for kids to sit in a fire truck and more.

But just as importantly, the event was an oppor­tunity for Community Ac­tion for Safe Teens, which organized it, to showcase local agencies and groups that help carry out its mis­sion of keeping youths safe and helping them make healthy lifestyle choices.

"There were some con­nections made – that’s what it’s all about," Gal­lant, CAST’s coordinator, said as the free, three-hour outdoor event came to a close.

The celebration was held in conjunction with Red Ribbon Week, the na­tional drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention aware­ness campaign that’s ob­served annually in Octo­ber. This year’s theme was "YOLO (You Only Live Once). Be Drug Free."

Organizations that par­ticipated in the celebra­tion, held at the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley, included church­es, addiction recovery organizations, 4-H, a sup­port group for single par­ents, and the local fire department and ambu­lance service.

The Milford High School football team ran an obstacle course, and nearby, Milford Police K-9 officer Mike Barritt intro­duced Barry, a 4-year old Dutch shepherd, the de­partment’s new canine, to kids and adults.

At booths, parents could pick up information about CAST, tips for healthy child development, mental illness, health care, addic­tion and the work of local groups that can have an impact on people’s lives. Families also toured the new teen center.

CAST, a committee of the Boys & Girls Club founded in 2004, serves Amherst, Brookline, Hollis, Lynde­borough, Mason, Milford, Mont Vernon and Wilton.

The organization carries out its mission through a variety of programs and activities, including teen leadership training, teen workshops on making public service announce­ments promoting healthy choices, and community workshops and forums. One of its goals is to cre­ate a culture of healthy choice-making in schools.

Gallant believes their efforts have paid off, cit­ing data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, con­ducted by the federal Cen­ters for Disease Control and Prevention, which show an overall decrease in substance use from 2013-15 by local teens.

Andrew Taylor, a Scout leader of Cub Scout Pack 421, was one of several people representing an organization that came to interact with the public.

He invited kids to play a memory game. He had them look at an assort­ment of items related to Scouting, including a lantern, compass, pocket knife and flashlight, cov­ered the items with a tarp and asked them to recall what they saw.

All participants, no mat­ter how well they did, were rewarded with a lollipop.

"I’m here to recruit and get the word out about Scouts," Taylor said as he stood by a display of photos of camps, out­door meetings, archery and other fun activities. "We’re trying to showcase some of the activities we do throughout the year."

At another booth, kids tossed bean bags through holes in one of two large pumpkin character boards.

"They love to play, espe­cially the little guys," said Susan Drew, of Milford United Methodist Church, who handed out spider-looking rings as prizes. "It’s something they can do."

As Drew greeted fami­lies, her husband, Kevin, along with other members of the Milford Lions Club, provided hungry kids and adults with hot dogs, burg­ers, popcorn and drinks. Kevin Drew said the club would donate the dona­tions it received to CAST.

Like several others at the event, both Drews wore red ribbons featur­ing the message "We’ve Got Better Things To Do Than Drugs."

Kym Haig, of Wilton, came with her family, in­cluding her five grand­children. She said they enjoyed a close-up look at the fire truck and am­bulance, played the bean bag toss and other games, and met several members of the River of Life Church in Amherst dressed as pi­rates and an elf.

Her grandkids were among the many children who received a plastic fire helmet from firefighters when families stopped by to see the fire truck.

"We show them all the tools we use and the gear we put on," Lt. Gary Wil­liams said.

Ray McDaid represent­ed two organizations at the event. He’s the associ­ate pastor at Household of Faith in Amherst, which has a recovery ministry fo­cused on alcoholism and runs meetings that sup­port people struggling with substance abuse. He’s also the director of programs at Addiction Recovery Coali­tion, which partners with businesses and community organizations to develop solutions for people strug­gling with addiction.

"This is a big problem, and it causes devastating consequences on fami­lies, children, adults and everyone involved," Mc­Daid said. "We believe this makes a difference."

One of the visitors to McDaid’s booth was Cha­rissa Eno, who was repre­senting Bethany Christian Services. In addition to spending time at her own booth to provide informa­tion about the organiza­tions’ programs, includ­ing adoption support and providing for the needs of kids in foster care, Eno visited other booths and spoke with the represen­tatives working at them.

"It’s good for me to know about the resources in the community," she said.