October 8 – SOMERSET – Childhood hasn’t always been easy for Jace Updyke.
As the child of an alcoholic father, Updyke said he turned to football to escape his own problems.
Sara Hoover grew up in a loving home, with strong ties to family, classmates, and church.
But in the years after school, both found their lives shattered by addiction – because they used drugs to mask their inner pain, they told crowds at an annual gathering on Friday. Red ribbon.
Sponsored by Somerset County Drug-Free Communities, Hoover and Updyke spoke as living examples of this year’s theme – “Drug-Free Looks Like Me” sharing their stories to remind county youth that addiction can come to naught. ‘anyone.
And more importantly, recovery can too, said Hoover, who now works as a recovery specialist, helping addicts find their own path to sobriety.
Friday’s event, held at the Somerset County Courthouse, marked the 36th year the county has observed Red Ribbon Week.
The campaign was created in memory of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who lost his life working to dismantle the drug cartels that plagued his community and country.
For the past three decades, Somerset Drug-Free Communities has marked Red Ribbon Week with anti-drug poster contests, essays and now videos in public and private schools across Somerset County.
With COVID-19 still a threat, this year’s rally was televised live to students across the county – and the public as well, said Rebecca Mull, community program coordinator for UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Twin Lakes.
Other events, including a 5K run / walk, are planned for Saturday, but they were all created with one message in mind: to empower today’s youth to recognize that drug and alcohol use can have dangerous consequences, but that there are people who understand the struggle and are ready to help, she said.
Somerset County is home to the UPMC Somerset Twin Lakes center and other nonprofits specializing in prevention, treatment and other support, Mull said.
“Life has good times and bad times,” Hoover said. “But there are people you can talk to. There are so many people ready and willing to help and to listen.”
Somerset County President Commissioner Gerald Walker praised the Red Ribbon Week message, and those who can best share it.
“There is no stronger voice (for recovery and prevention) than that of those who have been through it,” Walker said of Hoover and Updyke. “We owe them thanks.”