GENEVA – Aldermen declared Oct. 25-31 as Red Ribbon Week after hearing from Geneva High School senior Kieran McCarthy, co-president of the Geneva SADD club – Students Against Destructive Decisions.
Speaking at the Oct. 19 City Council meeting, McCarthy said the theme for this year is Be Happy, Be Brave, Be Drug Free.
To a question from First Ward Alderman Tara Burghart about when parents should talk to their children about alcohol and drug use, McCarthy said, “It’s never too early to start talking about it.”
“I’ve heard some kids starting using in middle school, like even as early as sixth grade. So I would have that talk as soon as possible,” McCarthy said.
In her life, McCarthy said drug use “came on my radar in middle school.”
“In my family, I have some family members with addiction issues and I’ve lost some people in my middle school time,” McCarthy said. “I went through all that, so I was more aware than that average middle schooler. But also you just start to see your friends doing it and people from other schools doing it. So I would say it’s not too early [for the talk] and middle school is probably about the time it begins.”
The Red Ribbon Committee and SADD try to highlight six principles of teen asset building to reduce the likelihood of young people experimenting and social drug use, McCarthy said.
The principles are finding a natural high from something that is your passion, surrounding yourself with positive peer influences, finding a positive mentor to encourage you, having a firm belief in your talents and abilities, setting goals for your future and building resilience to help you get through challenges in life.
“Statistics show teens who are more involved in their community and have a sense of belonging and stability are less likely to engage in risky behaviors,” McCarthy said.
Ways to get involved in the community include giving back during annual food drives and joining the student council for the virtual 5K during Red Ribbon Week to raise funds for COVID relief, McCarthy said.
Most teens are not using
Geneva celebrates Red Ribbon Week each year, taking responsibility for health and making mature decisions about substance abuse, McCarthy said.
“We know that there is a lot of pressure on teens to try to fit in with different crowds,” McCarthy said. “A lot of the pressure is placed on them by their own perceptions of what normal behavior looks like.”
The message of Red Ribbon Week is that most teens are not out using drugs on weekends, but are spending time with their families and friends in a safe way and are acting as positive role models for younger children in the community, McCarthy said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an additional detrimental impact on those with drug addiction as more incidents of drug abuse aren’t reported because more people are afraid, isolated and financially stressed, McCarthy said.
“Now, more than ever, we need to support each other and promote strength and asking for help for those with addiction problems,” McCarthy said. “To me, Red Ribbon Week means remembering those I have lost to drug abuse, but it also serves as a reminder to check on my loved ones often and to find happiness in myself, not in drugs and alcohol.”
What is brave?
Mayor Kevin Burns asked McCarthy to define being brave “in light of everything going on these days and the challenges you face as a student with peer pressure.”
“Being brave, to me, really means, like you said, resisting peer pressure because nowadays, it feels like everyone is doing these things,” McCarthy said. “It starts to feel isolating if you don’t partake in it. So I guess the biggest part of that would just be trying to stay away from it, even though it might not be the easiest decision.”
Burns asked if the pressure was greater now because of the pandemic or just more pronounced.
“From my perspective, it’s always been great and it’s just more pronounced now … since … school is only half in person and I feel like kids have less to do,” McCarthy said.
She was referring to the hybrid school program because of the pandemic in Geneva District 304, where students attend school half the time in-person and spend the other time learning remotely.
“So the idle time sometimes becomes a challenge?” Burns asked.
“Yes,” McCarthy said.
Remembering Becky Furnish
Third Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg said he thought Geneva has observed Red Ribbon Week for more than 25 years.
“As we address Red Ribbon Week for 2020, I think it would be appropriate if we did recognize someone that dedicated her leadership and her service to the promotion of good health in our community,” Kilburg said.
“And that would be Becky Furnish. Becky was involved with your group for years. Unfortunately, she passed away this past summer,” Kilburg said.
According to her obituary, Furnish died on July 17 at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield at 63. She had been a teacher in Geneva District 304 for 27 years.
“She was a strong spokesperson for the objectives of what we gather here tonight to recognize and proclaim in Geneva,” Kilburg said of Furnish. “I want to recognize that service again, and to her family and everything she brought to a healthy community.”
Burghart said Kilburg said what she had planned to say.
“Becky Furnish has been on my mind a lot. She was my daughter’s first grade teacher and we just came across a video of her leading Hannah’s Halloween parade around Williamsburg,” Burghart said. “I was already thinking of her and then having the Red Ribbon talk tonight, Becky is on my mind. I think it reminds all of us all the actions we do in this life have ripples. And that certainly her leadership and wonderful nature and accomplishments aren’t forgotten.”