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In this week's Times
wilbrahamhampdentimes.turley.com/

Service with a smile…

Wilbraham Brownie Scouts Caroline Maloni, Madelyn Hoskinson and Charlotte Powell sell Girl Scout cookies in their “Cookie Drive-Thru” on Feb. 11 in front of Meatball Kitchen on Boston Road.

(TIMES photo submitted)
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In this week's Times:
wilbrahamhampdentimes.turley.com/

MRHS students stay ‘above the influence’

Minnechaug club making a difference in the community

By Tyler S. Witkop
Turley Publications Staff Writer

WILBRAHAM – With a growing number of students being affected by drugs, suicide, bullying and domestic violence, one club at Minnechaug Regional High School is fighting to keep the community Above the Influence.
The club, led by former Lumberjack Club adviser Jay Dalessio, is taking the high school campus and community by storm, spreading important and positive messages in hopes of making a healthful difference. Formed last year, Dalessio said the club was in its infancy and planning stages featuring only a handful of students. Now, one year later, membership has exploded to include more than 30 students from all demographics.
“For this club, I’m making kids find me,” he said, noting that the message of remaining above the influence is important for students to believe themselves, not feel imposed by an adult. “I want you to want to be in it.”
Members spread the message of and do activities pertaining to the message of staying above the influence of drugs and alcohol, suicide, bullying and domestic violence. There are monthly speakers who talk to the club about their experiences with the various issues and members have participated in volunteer and community service projects.
For the month of January, the club collected gently used clothes, games and books for donation to the Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke. Collection bins were full outside his classroom on Jan. 26. He said anyone looking to make a late donation can contact him at jdalessio@hwrsd.org and he can arrange for pickup.
Most recently, club members greeted residents to the high school for the “Opioid, Prescription Drug and Youth” presentation on Jan. 25, hosted by the Hampden-Wilbraham Partners for Youth United for Safe, Healthy and Drug-free Communities.
“Coming into it I didn’t know that much,” student and club member Isabela Ferraro said about the opioid epidemic. She produced the documentary video “Drugs & Alcohol: It’s an Issue Here” featuring former Minnechaug students, the trailer of which played before the evening’s keynote presentation.
The full 49-minute video is available online through Wilbraham Public Access.
“I was shocked,” she said of the student’s stories. “It could start with anyone … it opened my eyes.”
Ferraro explained that going into her interviews and filming, she had very little experience with drug abuse in her own life, as she had a supportive network of family and friends that focused on making responsible decisions. Having completed the video, Ferraro hopes for the community at large to see and hear the message from their own neighbors so others may avoid falling into similar circumstances.
For Hailee Hartin, the club’s president, the message that stands out with the monthly speakers is that their stories of addiction could happen to any of the club members, their fellow students or their families.
“As students we tend to think ‘this can’t happen to me,’” she said, adding “These are all Minnechaug graduates.”
In order to hit the issue from all different perspectives, Dalessio noted past speakers have included former students, a mother who lost her son, a father who almost lost his son and a girl whose father was a heroin addict.
But the club does more than listen to speakers and communicate their message to peers. Casper Clavette said the club’s participation in the Out of the Darkness Walk for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was a powerful experience.
“Having a couple friends who’ve passed it was nice to have that support,” she said of the walk. She said the experience was one of an entire collective of people who have all dealt with similar tragedy.
“People care,” she said of what she took away from the experience. “There’s people everywhere around you that want to help you.”
Dalessio noted that the Out of the Darkness Walk will become an annual tradition of the club.
James Cardinale explained for him, one of the most meaningful activities was visiting the Soldiers Home in Holyoke and talking with veterans.
The group went to the Soldiers Home to visit with the veterans and serve them ice cream sundaes. Cardinale noted that it was upsetting for him to see the lack of visitors there and to think of how oftentimes the public perceives service-related mental health conditions as a sign of weakness.
“Some of us don’t realize they were more badass than we’ll ever be,” he said.
He and Dalessio noted it was uplifting to see the joy on the faces of the residents, especially when they fulfilled special orders to make the sundaes just the way they liked it.
“I want the community to be a better, safe place for everybody,” Cardinale said.
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Editor's note: The email address for Lisa Cronin published in the last two issues of The Wilbraham-Hampden Times was incorrect. The following is a corrected version.

Annual fundraiser to support Ultimate Party

WILBRAHAM – The 25th annual Ultimate party Fundraiser Dinner will take place Friday, March 3 from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Ludlow Country Club, 1 Tony Lema Drive in Ludlow.
Featuring a buffet dinner, cash bar and silent auction, proceeds from the evening support the annual safe graduation party for the Minnechaug Regional High School senior class. Musical entertainment will be provided by Tom Ingram and Mike Smith.
Cost is $25 and tables of 10 may be reserved.
Donations of raffle and auction prizes will be accepted. Those wishing to donate should contact Maureen Penna at 348-3269 or moepenna@charter.net.
For more information about the evening or to reserve tickets, contact Lisa Cronin at 566-5181 or lisamcronin@aol.com.
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