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Youth Deaths Cause Community Efforts to Educate Teens and Adults How to Prevent Future Tragedies

"Save a Life" workshops and seminars will be held on Sunday, Feb. 27 at the YCCC.

More than twenty teens from Yorktown and Cortlandt have died since 2005, due to drugs and alcohol abuse, depression, as well as physical abuse, bullying, violence and accidents. 

The Rev. Claire Woodley-Aitchison, a rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Mohegan Lake, said she started thinking about what could be done to educate people and prevent such tragedies. 

"The number of teenagers in Cortlandt and Yorktown who have been killed in the last five years is staggering," she said. 

She lost her own son Noah in a car crash in 2006 when he and his friends were headed to a party. He was 16 years old.

That need to give community members, kids and parents, the tools to know how to react started as an interfaith effort through the Yorktown Interfaith Ministerial Association, but it has now included organizations, community members, towns and schools. 

The culmination of this effort will come together on Sunday, Feb. 27, from 3 to 6 p.m. Teenagers and adults are encouraged to attend workshops and seminars at the to "help break the cycle of accidental death, funerals and regret."

Alliance for Safe Kids' coalition coordinator, Lisa Tomeny, said “Save a Life” is a program for the entire community and a joint effort to provide support, intervention and prevent future tragedies. There will be separate speakers and workshops for adults and teens.

One of the key things, she said, they are trying to achieve is to have teens attend the event, because they are the ones who are interacting with their peers and could potentially save a friend's life. 

"We want to give them the skills to recognize the signs [of when someone is in trouble] and when they do, to know what to do," she said. 

The challenge is to for kids to understand that they can help each other. On Sunday, teens will have the opportunity to attend interactive workshops that would give them the tools when having to deal with a difficult situation. 

"Kids feel helpless," Tomeny said, "and this is an opportunity to give them skills."

Some of those skills include recognizing the signs, having the confidence to be a friend and reach out to adults for help, which is something, Tomeny said, kids are reluctant to do.

Woodley-Aitchison also agreed that kids feel helpless and have a sense of fatalism, but she wants to give them hope and the knowledge that they can turn to their community for help -- whether it's a teacher, coach, clergy, police officer, boy or girl scout leader -- because, she said, everyone is interdependent.

"Hope is giving them knowledge and community support to help create an atmosphere of hopefulness as opposed to hopelessness," she said. 

Keynote speaker at the event is Jan Cheripko, an author whose work focuses on teen alcoholism. He is also a full-time educator at The Family Foundation School in Hancock, New York, where he works with at-risk teens, teaching English and philosophy. 

Adult workshops will focus on alcohol and drug use, bullying and teen suicide prevention, and communication between parents and teens. Teen workshops will include student-led workshops and seminars where they can discuss different issues with their peers. They will stress on how to help friends who are drinking, getting bullied or abused, and thinking about suicide. 

Students attending "Save A Life" will be eligible to receive three hours of community service credit and will receive a signed certificate.

"I think the fact that the event is happening is a success," Tomeny said. "The community is taking ownership saying these are our kids and how could we look for their well being and how could we give them the skills."

Instead of reacting once a tragedy has occurred, often something that could have been prevented in the first place, the goal is to discuss what can be done so no more families suffer in the future. It can happen to anyone, Woodley-Aitchison said, and she wants to give parents hope, because parenting can be "scary."

"Save a Life" is a program designed to inform and empower members of the communities, with special guest speakers and panels for adults, with and without high school aged children; and workshops for teens from Yorktown, Lakeland and Walter Panas high schools. 

Organizers say after the event, they want teens to be able to speaks out in a dangerous situation, or have parents know how to intervene in behaviors they might not have known how to react to before.

"A successful event would be a shift in the community that the number of people who know how to respond is far greater than those who don't,"  Woodley-Aitchison said. 

Check the attached brochure for more information.

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