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Courage to Speak’s Drug Prevention Night Moves Audience To Tears

By: KATHERINE DU | October 12, 2015

boys at courage to speak dinner

Demetri Dassouras and a friend at the Courage to Speak Dinner. Credit: Katherine Du.

The 11th Annual Courage To Speak Empowering Youth To Be Drug Free Family Night, the brainchild of Ginger Katz, took place on March 16 at West Rocks Middle School in Norwalk.

After her son Ian passed away in 1996 of a heroin overdose, Ginger had the choice to tell the world that he had died of a heart attack or an aneurism. She, instead, had a self-described “vision to speak out” that drove her not only to pen a drug prevention book titled Sunny’s Story, but also to found the Courage to Speak Foundation, which developed drug prevention education curricula for elementary, middle, and high schools around the nation. Her program has reached 16,800 students in Norwalk alone so far.

The Duffs and friend

The Duffs and a friend at the Courage to Speak dinner. Credit: Katherine Du.

The prelude to the Family Night’s auditorium program was a smattering of color and life: scores of people bent over plastic plates of penne, salad, and cookies, the Explorer Post at the doors for crowd control, and walls lined with posters beaming “Don’t smoke, drink a coke!”

After navigating the cafeteria for some time, this reporter saw patterns unfold among the hundreds of children, parents, and teachers present. Some, for instance, were astonished by the modern market’s variety of emerging drugs, such as keyboard dusters and powdered alcohol. Others stressed the necessity of beginning drug education in elementary or middle school.

“It’s so important for these young adults to hear this,” said Joanne Duff, mother of evening emcee and State Senator Bob Duff (D-Dist. 25).

Her grandson Ryan Duff, who attends West Rocks Middle School, touched on the temptations advertisements and television project on children that encourage them to use drugs.

“I think it’s important to be drug free,” he said, also mentioning the Courage to Speak presentation Mrs. Katz presented to his school earlier this year.

alumni greeted guests at courage to speak

Alumni of the Courage to Speak program greeted guests at the community event. Credit: Katherine Du.

While Larry Katz, Co-Founder of the Courage to Speak Foundation, announced raffle winners in the background, Brynne Korzenik, a 4thgrader at Brookside Elementary school, explained how she had read Sunny’s Story and “thought it was very sad… but it taught me a lesson to never do drugs.”

The slippery slope leading to drug addiction arose as a common theme at the community event as well; Katz described her son’s transition from tobacco to “a sip of beer with friends” to marijuana and ultimately to heroin, and others voiced similar sentiments.

“I think it’s been proven that most addictions start with a lesser-known drugs like alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco,” said Peter J. Corbett, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, who also emphasized the critical nature of children making early commitments to stay clear of drug abuse.

During the auditorium portion of the evening, emcee Bob Duff (D-Dist. 25) spoke at length about the heart of the event.

“The number one key is prevention,” said Duff. “This is all really a community event where all of us come together and speak about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and then as a community talk to our children and make sure that they grow up drug, alcohol, and cigarette free.”

Asst Norwalk Police chief Susan Zecca, Mayor Rilling and Mrs. Rilling

Norwalk Deputy Police Chief Susan Zecca, Mayor Rilling, and Mrs. Rilling. Credit: Katherine Du.

Mrs. Katz’s subsequent Courage to Speak presentation highlighted the dangers of enabling drug use, the necessity for children to have 3 to 5 trusted adults in their lives to spill their secrets to, and the horrifically detrimental effects of marijuana.

When Ginger recounted how she discovered her son’s lifeless form in her basement after years of turbulently combating his addiction and disease, the audience’s tears were palpable.

“Drugs are bigger than life,” said Katz. “They’re a demon that destroys you.”

After the heartrending presentation, legislators and some of the 900 students and teachers who participated in the Courage to Speak program this year took the stage.

ginger presenting at drug free family night

Ginger Katz during her moving Courage to Speak presentation. Credit: Katherine Du.

“I wish I could turn back the clock and bring Ian back to you and your family, but unfortunately I cannot do that,” said Demetri Dassouras, a student at Nathan Hale Middle School in a letter to Ginger that he shared with the audience. “What I can do is promise to encourage my friends and classmates to speak up if they know anyone who is using drugs… I am sure Ian can rest peacefully knowing that this mom and dad are doing everything they can to help other families have the courage to recognize and prevent this tragedy.”