Tijuana Fulford swore to herself in just fourth grade that she would never try drugs after participating in the Riverhead Community Awareness Program’s prevention program, Too Good for Drugs.
Years later, she hoped her memories would inspire a new generation of young students. On Friday morning, she was the keynote speaker for Riverhead CAPs’ 35th annual Say No to Drugs March, which marks the completion of the two-year program for over 800 fifth and six graders. The event was at Pulaski Street Elementary School.
The program has an evidence-based program that is focused on building self-esteem and increasing healthy decision-making skills with a goal to prevent and delay underage drinking and drug use in youth, according to a press release from Riverhead CAP.
“Most of the people that I encountered, most people that I hung out with, came from either a drug-fueled home, somebody sold drugs, or somebody did drugs,” Ms. Fulford told the audience. “But being in the CAP program gave me some options. It gave me some smiling faces. It gave me some older girls and young men that I can look up to.”
Ms. Fulford founded nonprofit The Butterfly Effect Project in 2014. Its mission is to create a safe space for girls to dream and succeed. The program started with eight girls and now has over 600 “butterflies” and 17 boys, or “mosquitos,” throughout its 17 chapters in East End communities, according to the press release.
The sea of students in white T-shirts, which said “Drug Free Body,” stood out as they marched from the elementary school down to Roanoke Avenue and through 2nd Street until finally returning to the school through Griffing and Hallet Avenues, with the districts NJROTC color guard leading the way.
Community members greeted and cheered for participants as the march progressed for the first time after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Although the march had stopped for that time, the program continued virtually, according to the press release.
After the march ended, there was a brief ceremony on the steps of the school in which guests also addressed the participants. The guests included New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack), Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Peconic), Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) Riverhead Councilman Ken Rothwell, and others.
During the ceremony, Mr. Rothwell presented a proclamation to Riverhead CAP president Brian Stark, declaring the day “Say No To Drugs Day” in Riverhead Town.
“We do proclaim this particular day as ‘Say No to Drugs Day’ in the Town of Riverhead and urge all citizens of this great town to join in sustaining awareness to Riverhead CAPS’ commitment, dedication and hard work and changing lives as they embody the spirit of hope, improve our community and make our town a better place to live,” Mr. Rothwell said.
Riverhead Central School District superintendent Augustine Tornatore also addressed the crowd and helped present two students, Emily Puluc Zurdo and Samuel Serrano Nunez, with an award and prize of $100 gift card for winning CAPs’ 2022 art contest. The event ended with a picnic for the students, donated from the Loyal order of Moose Lodge #1742.
“I hope that we all truly remember a moment like this because this does not happen in most school districts,” Mr. Tornatore said. “I’ve worked in different districts, and I visited different communities and there is no place like Riverhead.”