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Students march to support anti-drug message in 34th annual event

Students, faculty, elected officials, local police officers and members of the Riverhead Youth Coalition gathered at the Riverhead Community Awareness Program’s 34th annual ‘Say NO to Drugs’ march Friday morning.

They gathered in front of the Pulaski Street School, wrapped around the downtown area, headed south on Roanoke Avenue, west on Second Street and back to the school via Hallett Avenue – chanting anti-drug slogans and waving signs.

CAP, a nonprofit organization, has been dedicated to providing the Riverhead school district with drug and alcohol prevention education and counseling programs since 1983. Executive director Felicia Scocozza, who was part of the ceremony, has played a role in leading the movement. The fifth- and sixth-grade students at Friday’s march were celebrating their completion of a two-year prevention program, led by CAP, to teach life skills and prevent underage drinking and drug use.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, the guest speaker, stressed the importance of the decisions students make.

“So many students I went to school with in the South Bronx where I grew up didn’t make such good choices and it had a long-lasting effect on their lives,” he said. “Some of these kids struggled in school because they were drinking and doing drugs, and then as they got older, they lost opportunities to attend college and trade schools, which made it more difficult to find jobs.”

Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks at Friday’s ceremony. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

Mr. Toulon said he understands the difficulties and the power of peer pressure, but that one thing students should remember is that they have tremendous community support.

“We are all here, and so, when life doesn’t go the way you want it to — and believe me, there are going to be a lot of days when it doesn’t go exactly how you want it to go — remember there are people you can turn to. You don’t have to turn to drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Many local officials were attended as well.

“If someone’s try to sell you something,” said County Legislator Al Krupski, “they don’t care about you. They’re just trying to make money and take advantage of you. You can help yourself, but you can also help your friends to make good decisions, too. You’re part of a group of people here and what you do affects what everyone else does.”

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and CAP board president Brian Stark presented students with a proclamation declaring Friday, June 7, 2019 “Say NO to Drugs Day.”

Mr. Toulon said the message was personal for him because of people in his life who have struggled with drugs and alcohol.

“I’ve witnessed how experimenting with drugs can quickly spiral out of control,” he said. “I’m sure I’m not the only one here who can say that. We all know somebody who’s been affected by drugs.”

After the march and ceremony, the students were escorted to the school cafeteria to enjoy lunch provided by the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge #1742 and dessert provided by members of the PTO.

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