NORWALK, Conn. — Ginger Katz of Norwalk has a powerful message for parents about the downward spiral of drug addiction: “It starts with a sip of beer, a cigarette and pot,” Katz said.
Katz knows that pattern firsthand. Her son, Ian James Eaccarino, died of an accidental heroin and prescription drug overdose in 1996.
Since then, she and her husband, Larry, have talked to students, parents and teachers across the country about the dangers of drugs.
On Monday night, she took to the stage at West Rocks Middle School to deliver her message to the Norwalk community.
Her presentation was part of the 12th Annual Courage To Speak Empowering Youth to Be Drug-Free Family Night, which included a heartfelt talk by Katz about the warning signs of drug addiction.
Katz runs the Norwalk-based Courage to Speak Foundation, which she founded just months after Ian’s death. The organization trains classroom teachers and professional facilitators to teach the drug prevention programs and coordinates community events.
Through Katz’s children’s book “Sunny’s Story,” which tells Ian’s story through the eyes of the family’s beagle, teachers are able to start a discussion with young students about the dangers of drugs, Katz said.
“They get in the heart first when they read ‘Sunny’s Story’, they get in the heart when I share my story,” Katz said. “But when the teachers do the lesson plans with them, that’s when it comes together.”
Katz formed the lesson plans with a team of substance abuse experts. But she said the learning needs to extend outside the classroom.
“One out of three parents talk to their children about the dangers of drugs,” Katz said. “And that means that two thirds of kids coming to school haven’t had that conversation.”
The event also highlighted the work and words of students who participate in the the foundation’s curriculum taught by their health class teachers in Norwalk.
At the event, Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling praised Ginger and Larry for sharing her personal experience with others with the hope that their story will help the lives of others.
“They took that tragedy, and they made it a very powerful message,” Rilling said. "They come into the classrooms, and they teach our young people how to say 'no', how to have the courage to stand up when you know somebody is going to do something that is going to hurt them."
Rilling said he tells Ginger and Larry the same thing every year: “If you just impact one life of one child, everything you’ve done is worth it.”
For more information on the foundation’s programs, visit its website here.
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