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The Webster Patriot
By Steev Riccardo

When you first see and hear Lew Evangelidis speak to an audience of school kids, your immediate impression will be that you are not listening to an average sheriff giving an ordinary speech.

Sheriff Evangelidis has a certain hipness and down- to-earth feel about him that makes him approachable and someone you want to listen to. To make his points, he uses stories about musicians and celebrities, examples which kids can understand. The approach appears to be working.

The Worcester County Sheriff is making time to visit at least two high school and middle schools per week to present his anti-drug and alcohol Face2Face program directly to kids. The program is an ongoing part of the Sheriff’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Education Initiative for Worcester County Schools.

Last week he spoke to both Oxford Middle School and Oxford High School students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol use.

“Part of the reason I wanted to run for sheriff was to make an impact on the community. I grew up in Worcester County, it’s my home community,” said the 6’ 7” Evangelidis, who won the job in November 2010.

“I knew before I ran for sheriff that the most important impacts on what created crime were two-fold. There were people in prison and we wanted to make them less likely to repeat, and there were people who would be future prisoners, our young people.”

Once elected sheriff, Evangelidis listened to the stories the inmates told him, and he felt that he needed “to bring these stories to the young people because they think they are different, but they are not.”

“I have teenagers, and what you try and do is find a way to reach young people, and how you reach young people these days is through celebrities, through videos. We try and find examples which everyone is aware of, where drugs and alcohol have taken the wheels off of folks.

“These people are pretty famous for having died from drugs and alcohol, or their life is going down the tubes because of drugs and alcohol. Young people know it and although they find humor in it, I think it sends the message that they get it, and that’s the important thing.”

The audio and visual techniques that Evangelidis and his team use have been working effectively to get the kids’ attention. Kids are interested in seeing and hearing stories about celebrities whom they know and admire.

“I love music and I know young people love music and musicians like Eminem have a way to reach them. He is trying to reach young people through his own story because he almost died from drugs and alcohol. He glorified the usage in his lyrics, but the reality was totally different.”

Ironically, some of the celebrities who have been part of these presentations have died from drug- and alcohol- related causes, so that Evangelidis has had to alter his presentation.

“It’s powerful for us, putting these presentations together, and seeing that we just lost Whitney Houston and we lost Amy Winehouse last year.”

Oxford High School Principal Kevin Wells was impressed and grateful to have Evangelidis speak at the high school. “Basically, what we always have to do is expose kids to the reality of life. I thought the Sheriff did an outstanding job today of bringing that and highlighting what’s really out there. This is the real world, these are real choices and they can have a very negative impact. They call them the great removers, drugs and alcohol, they remove life, they remove self-esteem, so I thought he did an outstanding job of bringing that across today.”

Oxford Superintendent of Schools Allen Himmelberger was also on hand to hear the presentation. “We were glad to have Sheriff Evangelidis here today to speak to our seventh and eight graders at the middle school and our nine and tenth grade students at the high school. He does a terrific job of sending the message on how drugs and alcohol are the reason why 90% of the people at the house of correction are there. The presentation is just terrific, it’s timely and it’s well done. We hope that our students get the message.”

“It seems to be very positively received and I hope to reach people before they make bad choices,” said Evangelidis. Judging by the reaction he received from Oxford kids and even us adults on hand, the message is coming through loud and clear.

Evangelidis is booked through April and will be speaking to kids in Webster in the spring.