NORWALK, Conn. -- The Norwalk community gathered at West Rocks Middle School on Monday night for the annual Courage to Speak Empowering Youth To Be Drug Free Family Night.
The night was hosted by the Courage to Speak Foundation, whose founder, Norwalk mom Ginger Katz, lost her son Ian to a drug overdose in 1996. Since her son's death she has worked to develop drug prevention curriculum and programs for schools to teach kids about the dangers of drugs and some refusal techniques. Her book, "Sunny's Story" tells her family's tale through the eyes of their pet beagle and has become regular reading in Norwalk schools and other districts around the state.
Hundreds attended the 11th annual Family Night, which featured dinner and a raffle, as well as displays of posters that students created in drug prevention classes.
There was an assembly led by Sen. Bob Duff, where Katz told the story of Ian's struggles with drugs and his death. There were also remarks by Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling and Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, and an award was given to Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona for his support of the Courage to Speak Foundation.
Throughout the program students from several Norwalk schools stood up and read letters to Katz, describing how "Sunny's Story" made them feel and vowing not to do drugs.
"Every community needs to have a drug prevention program," said Katz. "Every child should be exposed to this so that they have the tools to be safe."
Courage to Speak also runs training programs for adults called Courageous Parenting 101. The program is designed to teach parents how to talk to their kids to keep them off drugs.
Ginger's husband, Larry, said kids whose parents don't talk to them are far more likely to end up abusing drugs. He said it is important for parents to be strict about drug use, but to let their children know why.
"The most important thing is to tell your child when you're disciplining them that you're doing it because you care about them," he said. "Parents need to tell their kids that they're doing it because they love them and want them to grow up safely."
"I think it's wonderful," Courage to Speak Board Chairman Peter Corbett said of the Family Night. "The outstanding support for Ginger's organization is a testament to the work that she is doing."
Stacy Cahill grew up with Ian and remained friends with him until his death. Her daughter Ella is a seventh-grader at West Rocks, and Cahill said that the Courage to Speak program has had a positive effect on students.
"I think it's awesome, it definitely raises awareness for kids at a young age. The kids are definitely learning a lot," she said. She believes that if Ian had had a similar program, he may have been able to avoid the dangers of addiction. She said that seeing Ginger's presentation and taking part in the night has refreshed memories of her friend. "It's brought me back to spending time with him and helped me remember him."
Ella grew up hearing stories of Ian from her mom, and said that connection has more deepened the message of "Sunny's Story" and Courage to Speak.
"I think kids at that age need a good way to teach them to stay away from drugs," Ella said.
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