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'Courage To Speak' Night Brings Drug Prevention Message To Norwalk

Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, Mayor Harry Rilling, Ginger Katz, Lucia Rilling, and Larry Katz are shown at a previous Courage to Speak Family Night.
Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, Mayor Harry Rilling, Ginger Katz, Lucia Rilling, and Larry Katz are shown at a previous Courage to Speak Family Night. Photo Credit: Contributed
Kids read their drug prevention messages at the Courage to Speak Family Night.
Kids read their drug prevention messages at the Courage to Speak Family Night. Photo Credit: Contributed
Ginger Katz is shown with local families at the Courage to Speak Family Night.
Ginger Katz is shown with local families at the Courage to Speak Family Night. Photo Credit: Contributed
Families are shown at a previous Courage to Speak Family Night.
Families are shown at a previous Courage to Speak Family Night. Photo Credit: Contributed

NORWALK, Conn. -- A drug prevention night led by a mother whose son died from a drug overdose is coming to Norwalk in March.

The 13th annual Courage to Speak Empowering Youth to Be Drug-Free Family Night will be held on Monday, March 13. The annual event grew out of an initiative Ginger Katz started in 1996 soon after the death of her son Ian, 21 from an accidental overdose of heroin and prescription drugs.

Community members, from students, parents, educators, government and school officials and local business leaders, are encouraged to attend and support their commitment to keep kids safe from drugs and risky behaviors.

Katz is the founder and CEO of the Courage to Speak Foundation and author of "Sunny's Story," a drug prevention story that helps families talk openly about the dangers of drugs.

"I wrote Ian's story through the eyes of Sunny. I thought if he could talk, this is what he'd say. I wrote it from Sunny's perspective to teach others," Katz said.

On the night her son died, Ian's dog, Sunny tried to wake her, she continued.

"Ian had told me he was going to go into a rehab the next day and I went to sleep and slept more soundly than I had in months because I knew he would be getting help. That night when he went back to his room he took heroin. He didn't have a chance. The dog came in to wake me during the night and I woke up thinking he had to go out. I didn't find Ian until the next day," Katz said recounting the tragedy

After his death, Katz said she could have told the world her son died of a heart attack or an aneurysm.

But instead, Katz had a "vision to speak out," she continued.

"My husband and I decided to speak out even though we were told to keep silent 21 years ago but I knew I didn't want this to happen to other families."

"The night of the wake I couldn't sleep. We were telling people we're waiting for the toxicology report. I had revelations I can't bury my son with a like. I woke my husband and said I want to speak out. I never lied about my son. He was a good kid. He made an unhealthy decision to use drugs. I was never ashamed of him."

Weeks later Katz was asked to speak at Norwalk High School by the school principal because kids wanted to hear Ian's story, so she did to a full auditorium.

Later a priest at her church invited her to a drug prevention forum there.

"I said let's wait 'til next year, but he said, 'No. You have to do it now.' So I spoke and 250 people came."

From there, a friend who taught health at Staples High School in Westport, invited her there to speak to a class.

Since then, the Courage to Speak Foundation has developed drug prevention education curricula for elementary, middle, and high schools around the country.

The program, according to Katz has reached 16,800 students to date.

Her mission through the Foundation is to "do everything in my power to prevent this tragedy from happening to another family."

The Courage to Speak night will highlight work ann words of students who participate in the Courage to Speak programs and curricula taught by their health class teachers in Nathan Hale, Ponus Ridge, Roton, and West Rocks Middle School, as well as Brookside Elementary School and Side by Side Charter School.

Sen. Bob Duff will serve as Master of Ceremonies and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, Chief of Police Thomas Kulhawik and Chief of Technology, Innovations, and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi will be introducing the students.

“By helping our students become outstanding anti-drug advocates and mentors for their friends and younger siblings, we hope to eradicate the problem of drug and alcohol use among young people in Connecticut and across the country. Students reduce drug use 65 percent if middle school prevention programs are in place," said Katz.

The Family Night is set for Monday, March 13 at 5:30 p.m. at West Rocks Middle School, 81 West Rocks Road, Norwalk. The snow date is March 14.

Click here for more information about Courage to Speak.

To become a sponsor or volunteer, call 877-431-3295 or email Ginger Katz at gkatz@couragetospeak.org

Click here for more information about "Sunny's Story."

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