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This year Drug Free Manatee celebrates 20 years of helping to build healthy, resilient communities in Manatee County with an immersive Red Ribbon Experience, like no other they have hosted. From its humble beginnings in a small room in the Manatee Glens building with a budget of $6.35, the group that was then called The Community Evaluation Committee, began this amazing 20-year journey to become the Manatee Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, and then Drug Free Manatee. Those original partnerships with groups such as Centerstone, Boys and Girls Club, Just for Girls and local schools and law enforcement has continued to grow to a thriving coalition of more than 150 members. Drug Free Manatee led the charge with the Opioid Task Force to shut down the “pill mills” that made Manatee County the Opioid Capital of Florida and recognize the plight of addicted pregnant women and drug endangered children with the introduction of the Handle with Care model of trauma responsive care through collaboration between law enforcement and the school district. Drug Free Manatee is now coordinating Handle with Care Florida, mentoring counties across the state to adopt the model. Over the past year DFM has also tackled the ever-growing vaping and vaping of marijuana in our schools by forming the Vaping Protocol Task force which has changed the citation system in schools to open education to youth and parents in the place of prosecution and provided vaping testing kits so that the schools can have valid data as to the extent of the problem and target prevention and intervention.

There is much to celebrate and explore going into this year’s Red Ribbon week. “Red Ribbon week seemed a great time to reconnect with the community on issues of substance abuse and addiction, because the events of the past year have left many vulnerable and isolated,” states Dr. Linda Thompson, CEO and Executive Director of Drug Free Manatee.

Red Ribbon Week is a national, annual event to bring awareness to the impact of substance abuse. It is in honor of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was a Drug Enforcement Administration Agent who was tortured and killed in Mexico in 1985.  In honor of Kiki’s memory and his battle against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors began to wear red badges of satin.  Parents then began to form coalitions using Camarena as their model while embracing his belief that one person can make a difference. These coalitions adopted the symbol of Camarena’s memory, the Red Ribbon. Today, the Red Ribbon serves as a catalyst to mobilize communities to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities.

In past years, Drug Free Manatee has held the Red Ribbon Champions of Prevention breakfast during Red Ribbon week. “This year is our 20th Anniversary, and a perfect time to celebrate the accomplishments of the past, demonstrate for the community the strength of our current initiatives, and share our vision for the future of prevention in Manatee County,” states Dr. Thompson. The coalition has created an immersive, experiential event that is a departure from the sit-down breakfast of the past. “We want our attendees to be moved by the art exhibit, the video presentation, and the demonstrations of the initiatives. We want them to leave and be motivated to be a part of the coalition, and an active participant in prevention activities.”

Red Ribbon Week kicks off this year with a Red Ribbon Take Over Event starting October 1. The community is being asked to put red ribbons out where we all can see the support for substance abuse awareness. We are having an Instagram contest for those who show their support and post a photo of their red ribbon display with the comment, “Join us in the fight against substance abuse” and tag @drugfreemantee to enter the contest for Amazon gift cards. 

At area high schools, the Youth in Action teams have organized Red Ribbon awareness campaigns. The public is encouraged to check in with local school to see what events they have planned. 

On Wednesday, October 27 at 6:30pm, DFM will host a Candlelight Vigil at the Riverwalk Pavilion in Bradenton, officiated by Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown, to honor those lost to addiction and overdoses. It is a free event, open to the public to show support for families in the community. There will be music, testimonials, and opportunity for families to contribute a message to the Red Ribbon Wall that will be an exhibit at the Thursday night event.

On Thursday, October 28, from 5:30-8 pm, we will hold our Red Ribbon Experience, sponsored by LECOM and Centerstone at the Manatee River Garden Club. This is unlike any Red Ribbon event DFM has sponsored in the past, featuring indoor and outdoor exhibits. It is an experiential journey through the past, present and future of substance abuse prevention in Manatee County in celebration of 20 years of coalition work. They will celebrate the partnerships that support the mission through video and live demonstrations of the power of prevention. There will be an art show that conceptualizes the journey of addiction, trauma, healing, and recovery curated by The Village of the Arts. There will be a video that immortalizes the accomplishments of Drug Free Manatee and its partners over 20 years. There will be music, great food (sponsored by Carrabbas Italian Grill) and non-alcoholic drinks (in respect of those in recovery) for guests. The event will feature live demonstrations of prevention strategies that are supported by Drug Free Manatee, including the Hidden in Plain Site Trailer, operated by the Manatee County Sherrif’s Office, where visitors can gain awareness of youth behavior through a tour of a teen’s bedroom and Parents Who Host, to reduce underage drinking. Youth in Action Teams and Healthy Teens Coalition will have exhibits on peer-to-peer education. Guests will be able to learn about efforts to reduce opioid deaths, view the impact of the Vaping Task Force in changing vaping behavior in schools, and learn how Manatee County became the first county in the state to adopt Handle with Care in its schools, which led to Drug Free Manatee receiving a grant to mentor all counties in Florida to adopt the model. There will also be a silent auction to support the mission. 

Drug Free Manatee will also be honoring 2021 Champions of Prevention and the Sectors that they represent during the October event at 6:30pm:

Joel Perez, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Overall Champion of the Year

Manatee County Neighborhood Services, Human Services Division, Children’s Services-Government

George Schrier, Manatee Public School District-Education

Melissa Bailey, State College of Florida-CF-Education

Stanley Schaeffer, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Law Enforcement

Derek Pollock, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Law Enforcement

Tamilynn Zanon, Youth Serving

Gabrielle Arzola, Bay News 9-Media

Victoria Reinhartz, Mobile Integrated Health Consultants and LECOM-Healthcare

Donna Shea, First Steps of Sarasota-Recovery

Andrew Schroeder, Adobe Graffiti Lounge in Village of the Arts-Business

Michelle Slawiniski, Florida Dept of Health-Public Health

Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue #3-First Responder

This year’s Red Ribbon Week is to highlight the prevention efforts in the community and bring awareness of the need to continue to address the threats to our youth and the suffering of those who are coping with addiction and the effects of trauma. It is about the power of a community to band together to reduce the impact of substance abuse in Manatee County. Please join the coalition to explore how you can be a part of the solution and support Drug Free Manatee and its community partners in this mission. Tickets are only $20 per person which includes admission and all food and beverage and can be purchased at the coalition website drugfreemanatee.org/redribbon or at Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com/e/20th-anniversay-red-ribbon-experience-sponsored-by-lecom-and-centerstone-tickets-167487673139

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By Manatee Herald

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