Fox Meadow Students Join Fight Against Opioid Addiction

Fox Meadow Students Join Fight Against Opioid Addiction

Students from Fox Meadow Middle/High School in Yorktown have participated in a county-sponsored summit called to engage Westchester youth in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

Accompanied by teachers Stacey Chiarella and Patti Gallo, several juniors and seniors from Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES’ alternative middle/high school listened as Tony Hoffman – a former off-road bicycling pro and Olympic coach – spoke about his battle with addiction, his prison term and how he turned his life around. County Executive Robert P. Astorino also urged the larger group of about 400 students from around the county to be part of the solution.

“Young people are dying,” Astorino told the students. “This is not just a day-long assembly. This is serious business, and we need your help. Young people are on the front lines of this epidemic." The summit, held Oct. 16, grew out of the initiative Westchester County Opioid Response Teams Helping You, or Project WORTHY, launched earlier this year.

The Fox Meadow students, who included Colby Kelland, Irving Rodriguez and Alexandria Pujol, spent part of the day listening as Hoffman outlined what his addiction had cost him: friends and family, his home and eventually his freedom, following an armed robbery. While in prison, Hoffman conquered his addictions, later becoming a professional BMX rider and placing second in the 2016 World Championships. He now directs The Freewheel Project, a not-for-profit that engages students through active sports such as dirt biking and skateboarding.

The students also heard from a panel of young adults from Westchester Community College who spoke about how their lives had been affected by opioid and heroin addictions. During workshops with representatives from other high schools, students were challenged to help come

up with their own ideas for spreading awareness and fighting the drug epidemic in their school and neighborhood communities. Students called those exchanges the highlight of the day:

“What I found most helpful was the time we spent in the conference room,” said Kelland. “I wish we had had more time to converse in there and really come up with ways to help others.” For his part, Kelland said he hoped this year to reach out to fellow Fox Meadow students needing support through the school’s CODA Club, short for Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness. The CODA Club explores links between addiction and mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and ADHD.

Chiarella said that the students had participated in an activity involving masks that they hoped to replicate. The exercise involved creating masks to represent hidden problems, such as anxiety, addiction or family issues. Using and taking off metaphorical “masks” offers a path for exploring ways to reduce stigmas surrounding mental health conditions and addictions.

“We want people to know it is okay to remove the ‘masks’ and talk about their anxieties or a family member’s substance abuse,” Chiarella said. “We want our students to know that it is always okay to take off their masks and ask for help.”