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AREA STUDENTS, TEACHERS GEAR UP FOR CAMPAIGN TO PROMOTE THEIR ANTI-SUBSTANCE ABUSE MESSAGE

Some 250 students and teachers from 36 school districts gathered Wednesday to discuss an upcoming effort to fight all types of substance abuse -- whether drugs, smoking or alcohol.

In the daylong youth conference at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew, students shared their enthusiasm and determination to commit themselves to joining with the national Students Against Destructive Decisions and get the media to lend support to the movement.

At the end of a skit by students from Eden Central High School, the students yelled out: "Drugs s---," a position strongly supported by the sponsor of the event, the Western New York United Against Drugs organization.

The eighth-annual Red Ribbon Prevention Strategies Conference had high school students committing to a campaign between Oct. 23 and 31 to deluge the public with information that will support their fight against substance abuse.

WNY United spokesman Matt Smith said the students involved are participating in anti-substance abuse programs, and this week's gathering was to "energize them and encourage their participation" in the weeklong campaign.

He said each school in the program is required to produce one advertising message for each of the five days. He and his staff will then screen them and pick out the most effective for distribution.

"I joined this movement because I believe that my school needs a focal point that all the kids can relate to," said David Clemons II, 16, a Buffalo Traditional School student. "Somehow, we have to stop drug and other substance abuse, including smoke and alcohol.

"This session is pretty cool. I like the media connection. I'm part of SADD at our school, and we have programs, like bringing in police officers to speak," he added. "I recently spoke with a lady whose son was killed last year in an alcohol-related accident. We've got to stop it."

At Depew Senior High School, Aaron Million, 15, is a 10th-grader who has been elected president of SADD.

"This program is really great. I just attended a seminar on the value of advertising and learned a lot on how effective that can be against abuse," she said.

Lisa Wittman, 15, a 10th-grader at Cheektowaga Senior High School, said that last summer she attended a three-day area leadership program on the subject in Holland.

"I really don't care about the requirement that we all have to be involved in a skit, but the program itself is a really good idea. For me, the philosophy of the program -- to check it out and pay attention -- is something that will stay with me."