Commissioner wins Mary Ann Bowman Spirit of Red Ribbon Week Award

October 13, 2018

The master of ceremonies was the ninth person to receive the annual Mary Ann Bowman Spirit of Red Ribbon Week Award at a ceremony Friday in the Somerset County Courthouse.

The emcee, county Commissioner Gerald Walker, was surprised. The honoree doesn’t know they are the honoree until their name is announced at the rally.

“It is truly an honor,” Walker said to hundreds of people who crowded into the courtroom for one of the nation’s oldest Red Ribbon campaigns.

“There are so many people that are so important in our prevention effort,” he said. “I am proud to be one small piece of that team.”

Walker and his fellow commissioners, John Vatavuk and Pat Terlingo, adopted a proclamation Oct. 2 proclaiming Oct. 23-31 as Red Ribbon Week with the theme: “Life is your journey. Travel drug free.” They urged everyone to join the week’s activities and to continue to work throughout the year to protect the community by establishing “an atmosphere that supports awareness, education and ongoing initiatives to prevent illegal drug use.”

Walker read the proclamation as part of an introduction to the rally prior to learning about his award. Somerset Boy Scout Troop 131 presented and retired the colors to enthusiastic applause. The Berlin Brothersvalley High School Show Choir, directed by Katie Spiri, sang the national anthem and another spirited song to help close the ceremony.

District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser introduced the keynote speaker, Sarah Deist, Somerset Hospital director of corporate communications, stating: “She is a model example of what sacrifice and service is. We have an obligation, those who have skills and talent, to go out and help others.”

Deist spoke of how she came from Michigan through Mississippi to Somerset by way of family, friends and her involvement in college and community health education. She talked of her love of the area and of her work. She talked candidly about growing up with parents who were addicts, and how her mother was very transparent and talked to her about addiction.

“I can’t imagine where I would be if I was addicted,” she said. “I would not have the opportunities I’ve had.”

This year’s theme struck Deist to her core, she said.

“I realize that life is your journey,” she said.

She was delighted by the large turnout at the event, as was Lazzari-Strasiser, who said she was “encouraged” by all the people. She added that she learns daily from “the enthusiasm and dedication” of the community to prevent drug problems.

The drug epidemic has touched nearly every family in some way, she said.

The Red Ribbon event has become a symbol to eliminate the demand for illegal drugs and the abuse of prescription drugs and the Red Ribbon Campaign a way to show intolerance for drug use in schools, families and communities, she said.

The event also is a time to remember the source of the movement: Drug Enforcement Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena’s strength of character and bravery in trying to put a multibillion-dollar drug pipeline in Mexico out of business, she said. He died brutally for his effort.

Camarena’s murder in 1985 opened the eyes of many Americans to the dangers of drugs and the international scope of the drug trade, according to the National Family Partnership, which organized the first national Red Ribbon Week with President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan. The group estimates that more than 80 million people participate in Red Ribbon events annually.

At the rally, county schoolchildren received awards for posters, banners and essays addressing the theme of the campaign.

Jaclyn McCusker, director of Laurel Arts, presented the awards to the top three schools that participated in making banners based on the campaign theme.

A complete list of the winners and their photos will be in the Daily American’s Oct. 23 edition.

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