Matt Beckett was greeted by hugs and high fives Monday when he made an appearance at East Elementary School.
Beckett, Grand Futures Moffat County director, came bearing candy, rulers, stickers, ribbons and temporary tattoos, all blazoned with anti-drug, -alcohol and tobacco slogans. That may have contributed to the warm welcome he received at the elementary school.
The fact that he was dressed as the Moffat County High School mascot may have helped, too.
Beckett kicked off Red Ribbon Week on Monday in Craig, starting a four-day event aimed at preventing substance abuse among local youths.
The Moffat County branch of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, a local organization aimed at halting youth substance abuse, will take Red Ribbon Week to other area schools.
Today, Beckett plans to visit Ridgeview Elementary School followed by Sunset Elementary on Wednesday and Craig Intermediate and Middle schools on Thursday.
The annual program is designed for elementary, intermediate and middle school children.
Students at these ages are "little sponges," Beckett said, adding that younger students are more receptive to preventative programs because they haven't been exposed yet to substance abuse.
And making that impact could make a difference when they become teenagers.
"If you get them at this age, hopefully, you can plant the seed so when they're older, they'll have the tools to avoid drug and alcohol use," he said.
He hopes stickers, candy and other handouts he gives students will make their way home and grab parents' attention.
Parental involvement is another Red Ribbon Week goal.
"It really helps to hopefully open up a dialogue with parents and give parents an opportunity to sit kids down and have a good talk," Beckett said.
Still, from his perspective, the program is effective only when it's reinforced in schools throughout the year.
"Red Ribbon Week is really such a short time to do any kind of lasting prevention," Beckett said.
Grand Futures has plans to work with local schools to develop a long-term substance abuse prevention curriculum.
Fortunately, at least one local school is supplementing Beckett's appearances this week with activities of its own. Craig Middle School students have pamphlets, with puzzles and quizzes included, designed to teach students how to avoid alcohol, tobacco and various drugs, Kathy Bockelman, CMS counselor, said.
Red Ribbon Week wraps up Thursday with an extended lunch for CMS students, complete with games.
At the center of Red Ribbon Week rests the serious issue of youth substance abuse - something that, for some students, may require more than preventative measures to quell.
"(At CMS), kids are at all different levels," Bockelman said. "There are some that are still very much in the preventable stage. And, there are some that need intervention and probably even a few that need treatment.
"And I think they're basically a reflection of the society around them."
This week, she plans to teach a 15-minute lesson to CMS students about avoiding substance abuse.
From what she's observed, Bockelman said, the majority of the school's students haven't yet experienced drugs, alcohol or tobacco.
All the same, she and other CMS staff are planning to continue teaching substance abuse prevention next week, too.
"I hate for it to be a one-week thing," she said.
Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org