NORWALK, Conn. -- Norwalk’s Ginger Katz has taught kids how to stay off drugs by sharing the story of her son’s death told from the perspective of the family dog.
Katz founded the Courage to Speak Foundation after her son Ian died of an overdose of heroin and Valium in 1996. In 2008, she wrote “Sunny’s Story,” which tells the story of Ian’s death, narrated by the family beagle Sunny. The book details Ian’s struggles with addiction and the changes he went through after he started taking drugs. Katz thought that using Sunny as a narrator would help students connect with Ian’s story.
“I thought if Sunny could talk, he would have a lot to say,” Katz said.
The night Ian died, he told his parents that he had relapsed and was going to seek help in a long-term program. After he went downstairs to use drugs one last time, Sunny climbed four flights of stairs to Ginger’s room.
“He tried to wake me up the night Ian died. I know now that he was trying to send me a message,” Katz said. She said she continued to sleep, comforted by Ian’s promise to get help. “Sunny’s message was undelivered.”
After Ian’s death Katz began giving presentations to schools around Norwalk and the state to teach children the dangers of drugs. She has given more than 1,000 presentations to schools across the country. She worked with principals and health teachers to develop a drug prevention curriculum, which is now taught in six Norwalk schools as well as other schools around the state.
“Sunny’s Story” is now taught as part of the curriculum in many schools. Children embrace the story of Sunny and how Ian’s drug problems affected the family, Katz said. During a recent presentation at Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, fourth- and fifth-grade students eagerly asked questions about Sunny, Ian and Katz.
“We want to give children the tools to keep their vow after reading the book. We try to touch their hearts, but also touch their intellect,” Katz said.
The Courage to Speak Foundation has also launched a Courageous Parenting 101 program to help parents.
“For parents, even if they think they child will never use drugs, they need to find out what they’re being exposed to,” Katz said.
The curriculum has been adapted for students between fourth and 12th grades. Students learn the effects of drugs, how they can say no, what to do if they think a friend needs help and the importance of speaking out. Katz says that students need to find between three and five adults that they can trust and feeling comfortable sharing their secrets with. She said it’s important that students not be afraid to speak out if they or someone they love needs help.