FITCHBURG — Since his first year with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office back in 2013, Sheriff Lew Evangelidis has made it a point to educate Worcester County students on substance abuse and addiction.
That was no different on Tuesday, April 4, and Wednesday, April 5, as Evangelidis visited Fitchburg High School to deliver his latest interactive presentation. As part of the WCSO’s Face2Face program, Evangelidis discussed the dangers of illicit substances and addressed “popular” trends such as vaping, consumption of alcohol and others.
Evangelidis said the purpose of the program was to send a “powerful message” to students about the “devastating” consequences associated with drugs and alcohol, while state Rep. Michael Kushmerek stressed the importance of the program as many Massachusetts families look to break a “generational cycle of addiction.”
“With almost 90 percent of the inmates at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction addicted to drugs and alcohol, the program focuses on education and prevention as the best way to keep our youth from starting on that direct path to prison,” Evangelidis said. “This program is tailored to send a powerful message to our students about the devastating effects of substance abuse and how one bad decision can change the course of your life.”
“As someone whose early life was defined by issues of mental health, homelessness, and substance use in the family, I’ve seen the first-hand impact of how addiction can inflict trauma on children and loved ones,” Kushmerek said. “The Face2Face program by Sheriff Evangelidis provides the education and resources for our students to make more informed decisions, and the tools necessary to break the generational cycle of addiction in our families and communities.”
A “modern-day” approach, Face2Face attempts to connect with students through the use of videos, pop music and real-life examples of the serious effects of certain illicit substances on the human body. Since it was launched during his first term as sheriff, Evangelidis has brought the demonstration to nearly every high school throughout central Massachusetts — a projected reach of more than 400,000 students, according to WCSO’s Director of Communications Eric Eisner.
At FHS, Evangelidis encouraged students to make the “right decisions,” to ask questions and decide what legacy they want to leave behind as he reminded them that they chart their own futures. He also identified numerous famous personalities that had previously struggled with substance abuse or even lost their lives to addiction.
The presentation also included physical depictions of acne, dull skin, hair loss, discolored teeth and other ailments that result from said addiction and substance abuse, while Evangelidis answered questions and passed around an inmate uniform and other related paraphernalia. He ended the presentation with a slide that read “IT’S UP 2 U.”
Later Evangelidis said he was “committed” to bringing the “unique” program to every school district in Worcester County.
“This unique drug and alcohol prevention program is tailored to send a powerful message to our students about the devastating effects of substance abuse,” he said. “As the only Sheriff in the country presenting this program, I am committed to bringing Face2Face to every school district in Worcester County.”
Fitchburg Public Schools Superintendent Robert Jokela thanked Evangelidis for his efforts, while Mayor Stephen DiNatale applauded his efforts and said it was a “pleasure” to welcome him to the city.
“We want to thank Sheriff Lew Evangelidis for taking the time out of his day and speaking to our students about the myths and facts of drug use,” said Fitchburg Public Schools Superintendent Robert Jokela.
“It was a pleasure welcoming Sheriff Evangelidis to Fitchburg,” commented Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale. “Students were engaged in his presentation, and I believe that the messaging will resonate with many students.”
Similarly, FPS Community Engagement Coordinator and parent Luisa Fernandez said she felt the message was “powerful” and “important to get … to our students” as “many” in the community struggle with substance abuse.
For more information on the Face2Face program, those interested should contact Eisner at EEisner@sdw.state.ma.us.