AWARENESS Youth attended the UC Prevention Council Prescription Drug Task Force Meeting at SUNY Ulster on March 21, 2013. We were welcomed by Chairman, Joesph Sinagra, Chief of Saugerties Police. They listened intently though weren’t acknowledged during the presentation. Realizing they are the underdogs only makes them more committed to helping youth peer to peer.
Maddy, President of the SUNY New Paltz AWARENESS Campus Club asked if the Coalition for a Safer New Paltz has plans to include an outreach on Campus and offered to help.
AWARENESS 4th Annual Presentation
– written by Marykate Marley
Zephyr Dresser Peck, Marykate Marley, New Paltz Assistant District Attorney John Rusk, Alycia Geiss, Darlene Pfeiffer, Marie Shultis, New Paltz Town Honorable Judge Bacon, Brendan O’Keefe, Joe Leggio, Paul DeLisi0
On April 4th, AWARENESS held it’s fourth annual presentation hosted by the newly formed AWARENESS Club at the SUNY New Paltz campus in the Student Union building. The presentation was held from Noon – 4pm. Five tables were set up consisting of tee – shirts representing AWARENESS, interlock devices, newspapers created by AWARENESS staff and volunteers, a hand writing analyst and the leader of a SUNY New Paltz AWARENESS club. Joe Leggio began the club as a student at SUNY New Paltz. After learning about AWARENESS he felt it a priority to incorporate it on the campus in attempt to help solve the overabundance of drug abuse.
There were ten speakers at the event. They consisted of Marie Shultis, the Executive Director of AWARENESS, New Paltz Honorable Judge Bacon, New Paltz assistant District Attorney, John Rusk, County executive, Mike Hein. Two volunteers, Alycia Giess and Kim Jordan (see interlock page) also spoke at the event. A short film on Zephyr Dresser-Peck was shown. Dresser-Peck is a 23 year old that assisted in beginning the program after he was sentenced to prison because of a drunken driving accident that ended in the death of his friend on prom night. Paul Deisio (see below), whose brother was killed by a drunk driver also spoke supporting the groups efforts. Jo Griffith (see below), who specializes in analyzing had writing gave insight on addiction and I (see marykate below)also spoke at the event as a volunteer of the program
“The most sobering factor of drug use obviously is death ” – Honorable Judge Bacon solemnly stated.
Our society sees the same stories make the front pages of papers, magazines and T.V. habitually. Drug abuse is such a widely discussed subject mostly because it is such a common struggle. This common struggle leads to a common place: the court room. According to John Rusk, “The number of cases in local court that start with abusing alcohol or drugs in my estimation would be an excess of 75 percent to 80 percent and probably approaches the 90 percent mark. It seems that almost every criminal case starts out that way.”
The punishments for drug and alcohol crimes can range anywhere from a fine to jail or prison.Drug abuse has gone on for far too long and seems to only be getting worse. The need to break the cycle has been long overdue. It is time that we find a way to help individuals who are struggling. Those of us without the addiction, or who have overcome addiction must step up and find a way, which does not just punish the crime but gets to the root of why the crime was committed. That is exactly what AWARENESS offers. AWARENESS is a non-for profit program that targets the youth who are struggling with alcohol or drugs. AWARENESS is at hand for judges to use as an alternative to other consequences.Marie Shultis is the women behind the program.
With strength and persistence, she exemplifies what it means to break the mold. She has pushed to keep this program running with pure faith that she will change the world, one child at a time.Judge Bacon spoke on a story that he would never forget: his neighbor and also sister’s friend who died due to drug abuse. Judge Bacon has been using AWARENESS since he was informed of it. “I think it’s been very successful” Bacon stated. “I think one of the reasons when I was growing up people did drugs because they wanted to feel part of a community and you are creating an alternate community that people can feel as though they belong without having to do drugs.
It’s a non-judgment atmosphere and people can get together and talk with each other about issues. I think that’s very important.” He hopes that the program continues.Mike Hein spoke on the effectiveness of the program. He stated that he came to the presentation to say thank you to Marie and the volunteers “because if we’re all very successful, we won’t have to go to another funeral, we won’t have to explain to a family how something has been life altering for them. And what we’ll be able to do is embrace positive choices by our young people, positive choices by everyone.”
Another advocate, John Rusk, gave an informative speech. Speaking to the members of the AWARENESS program, Rusk explained, “It is clear from the law enforcement perspective that dealing with drug abuse and alcohol abuse is critical to reducing crime in our communities and in the program (the Alcohol AWARENESS program that you are involved in and Marie supervises) we attempt to address that, especially with regards to younger kids, high school kids and college kids.”Alicia Geiss shared her testimony. Feeling sober, she had driven the day after she had drank and ended up killing her friend after striking a tree. The first time she volunteered for the program, she was still in jail. The youth came to her jail and she spoke to them in her orange jumpsuit.Kim Jordon touched on interlock devices and how having one has changed and shaped her lifestyle.
I told how I came to meet Marie and about a boy who was addicted to pills and through AWARENESS was led to a six month rehab.“We are fortunate to have someone with the high standards which Marie has. Who will not allow the program to be jeopardized by just saying anybody passes with flying colors. That’s not what happens when there is someone who is a problem, who could use more treatment and classes we get that info back and I cannot tell you how much that means to me as the prosecutor who has to take responsibility for this particular criminal case and for the court and the judge who has to dispose justice in a fair manner.” John Rusk said thankfully.
The event was held to inform other judges and individuals who may be interested in the program. Marie has almost no funding at this time and is hoping that through the presentations given somebody or some organization will catch on and sponsor her. “That credibility that Marie brings to the program, is, I think what allows the judge and I to be so willing to offer that program to the appropriate defendant.” John Rusk illuminated.“My goal is for Ulster County to become the healthiest county in all of New York State. One of the ways that happens is taking on heart issues just like this.” Mike Hein expressed with hope.- written by Marykate Marley