Union County, NJ – “As a person in recovery, I am so proud to have so many people out here today…” said Morgan Thompson (she/her), Prevention Links CEO during her remarks before the 23rd Annual Red Ribbon Prevention Walk kickoff. For over 50 years, the community non-profit, Prevention Links, has been serving Northeastern NJ residents with drug-use prevention, addiction recovery & family support services free of charge. This year marks their 23rd Annual Red Ribbon Drug-Use Prevention Campaign which will run throughout the month of October.
Upbeat music filled Nomahegan Park in Cranford on Saturday 10/16 as hundreds of community members came to support this year’s fundraiser walk. “Our walk is really designed to not just raise awareness about drug prevention, but to shine a light on recovery and let people know that there are resources available, that recovery is possible, and that whatever support you need, our agency and partner organizations are here to help.” said Mrs. Thompson in an interview with News 12 New Jersey.
People participate in Red Ribbon Day for many different reasons: some come because they want to support Union County’s prevention programs; some because they are in recovery from substance misuse themselves; some because they’ve lost loved ones to addiction and want to help promote protective factors for the next person who may be struggling. Regardless of individual motivations, Red Ribbon Day ultimately gives individuals the opportunity to come together and support a common goal of fostering, empowering & sustaining wellness efforts in their own community.
Since its beginning in 1985, Red Ribbon has managed to drastically increase drug awareness and prevention efforts across the nation. The campaign was originally launched in response to the murder of DEA Agent Enrique (Kiki) Camarena, who was tragically tortured and killed by the Mexican Drug Cartel. Since it’s beginning, parents and youth in communities around the country have designated October 23rd-31st each year as a time for mobilizing communities to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities.
Chairman Al Mirabella led the formal ceremony again this year, speaking to the many ways Union County has supported Prevention Links in their prevention & recovery efforts for the last 50 years, including the opening of the Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength & Hope Recovery High School, the first-ever public recovery high school in New Jersey and the Union County Helping Hands 365 program, which connects Union county residents struggling with substance use to recovery support services. Chairman Mirabella was joined by fellow commissioners Chris Hudak, Sergio Grenados, Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded and Bette Jane Kowalski, attesting to their involvement and support of Union Countys’ longstanding collaboration with Prevention Links’ drug prevention and recovery efforts.
Union County Prosecutor, William Daniel, spoke to the importance of the current opioid crisis and prevention efforts during the Red Ribbon Ceremony. “…Addiction does not discriminate – it can impact anyone at any time…Having a compassionate and holistic approach to supporting substance abuse treatment, prevention and recovery is key to a healthier and happier community.” said Prosecutor Daniel. “We all know substance abuse impacts every community across the nation and each and every community here in Union County is no exception.”
Red Ribbon Day offers an opportunity each year to recognize the accomplishments of individuals that have meaningfully contributed to prevention and wellness efforts in Union County. The Naloxone Deployment Award is presented to the police officer in Union County who has administered the most naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses opioid overdose. This year there was a two-way tie between Officer Terrance McDonald of the Plainfield Police Department and Officer Stanley Edouard of the Roselle Police Department.
The Community Impact Award is given in recognition of an individual who has made a significant impact in creating a healthier, safer Union County and helping to drive prevention efforts. Due to last year’s event being virtual, 2020 honoree Daryl Palmieri, Interim Executive Union County Superintendent, received his award in-person this year. “When I first started this job, one of the first things I did was visit the Recovery High School. Right away I saw the great work that Prevention Links is doing, and right away I wanted to get involved with them and their great programs and strategies for our districts in Union County.” said Mr. Palmieri during his remarks.
The 2021 Community Impact Award was presented to Stanley Neron, the Director of Recreation for the City of Elizabeth. Mr. Neron is also a commissioner for the Elizabeth Board of Education and sat as the Board of Directors’ President for 3 years at Prevention Links. “You have to understand the power that exists within you…” said Mr. Neron during his impassioned remarks, “…That’s what this movement is all about. That is what this legacy, Prevention Links, is all about.”
The formal ceremony was followed by a free Family Fun Fall Festival where children and their families were able to enjoy a host of activities like pumpkin painting, pony rides, crafts, carnival games, a petting zoo, costume contest, food truck, health fair & more. Prevention Links was able to raise over $30,000 for this year’s Red Ribbon campaign and will continue raising awareness and funds through the end of October. The organization invites members of the community to partake in this campaign to help make this year’s campaign the most successful yet. Prevention Links uses the funds raised to support their free services provided to residents of Union County and beyond.
Next year’s Red Ribbon Day is tentatively set for 10/22/22.
The 23rd Annual Red Ribbon Day was made possible thanks to; Union County Board of Chosen Commissioners; Union County Police Department; Union County Department of Human Services; Union County Parks and Recreation; GCADA; Union County D.A.R.E. Officers Association; Amber Pizzo Memorial Foundation; MADD-NJ; Union County Sheriff’s Office; Union County Prosecutor’s Office; Drug Enforcement Administration – Newark; Union County Municipal Alliances; Cranford Police Department; Cranford Fire Department; Plainfield Municipal Alliance; E-Port Community Center; Bro-Rito’s Food Truck; SOBA New Jersey; Park Ave BMW; Park Ave Acura; Hafetz and Associates; Industrial Cooling Corp; Summit Behavioral Health; Seabrook Rehab; Seton Hall University; Sharp Business Systems; Huntington Creek Recovery Center; Pocono Mountain Recovery Center; Summit Oaks Hospital; Lifeline Technology Solutions; The Counseling Center; Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery; High Focus Centers; Allstate; Recovery Centers of America; Elizabeth PBA Local #4; Brookdale Recovery Center