Sacred Heart Greenwich hosts drug and alcohol panel


Yesterday, Sacred Heart Greenwich hosted an educational panel on drug and alcohol abuse amongst teens for Upper School students, seventh and eighth grade Middle School students, and parents. The school worked with the First Selectman’s Youth Commission (FSYC), a commission that includes students from Greenwich schools, to organize the panelist speakers. The goals of the panel were to provide information on the dangers of teen drug and alcohol abuse, share warning signs of substance abuse, offer preventative education, and present resources for those in need of help.
Prior to the event, Sacred Heart sent a letter by email to parents, explaining why the event is necessary for the school community.

Four speakers presented their experience with drugs and alcohol addiction to the Sacred Heart Community. From left to right, Ms. Ingrid Gillespie, Ms. Amy McDonnell, Ms. Maggie Young, Ms. Kera Townsend, Mr. Greg Mendell. Courtesy of Ms. Rachel Zurheide.

“Our plan is to share information and raise awareness, while also encouraging conversations between students and adults surrounding these difficult topics. We believe that opening up our lines of communication as a community will create a culture of prevention,” the letter said. 
The FSYC worked with Sacred Heart to organize two of the five speakers. The FSYC includes students from Greenwich schools such as Sacred Heart, Brunswick School, Greenwich Academy, and Greenwich High School. The commission works directly with the town of Greenwich’s First Selectman Mr. Peter Tesei and the town’s Youth Services Coordinator Ms. Jennifer Byxbee, according to
According to, “[t]he First Selectman’s Youth Commission of Greenwich provides an opportunity for high school age young people of the town of Greenwich to express their concerns and commitment to the community for the purpose of improving the quality of life for all youth.”

Each of the five speakers who participated in the panel presented a different perspective on the alcohol and opioid epidemic, with the intention of educating and bringing awareness to the Sacred Heart student body.
Sophomore Elle DeAlessandrini commented on the impact the panel personally had on her.
“I feel as though the drug and alcohol panel was informative by presenting statistics, but also really impacted me in the sense that it reminded me that addiction can happen to anyone and that it needs to be dealt with through the personal stories that were told to us,” Elle said.

Panelist speakers with Sacred Heart FSYC representatives. From left to right, Ms. Amy McDonnell, Ms. Maggie Young, Elisabeth Hall ’18, Ms. Ingrid Gillespie, Grace Thompson ’19, Katherine Santoro ’19, Stephanie Browder ’19, Mr. Greg Mendell, Ms. Kera Townsend. Courtesy of Miss Karen Panarella.

Panelist Ms. Ingrid Gillespie represents the Connecticut Prevention Network on the Alcohol and Drug Policy Council (ADPC) and serves as Tri-Chair of the ADPC Prevention subcommittee. Ms. Gillespie has years of experience working with communities and organizations fighting substance abuse.
Panelist Ms. Maggie Young is the Director of Women and Children Services and works in the Families in Recovery Program at Liberation Programs Inc., an organization in Fairfield County that helps individuals overcome their addiction. Additionally, Ms. Young is involved in the Greenwich Youth and Family Resource Program. This program works with families, schools, and the community to provide education and bring greater awareness to the issue of addiction. 
Ms. Gillespie and Ms. Young presented a powerpoint during the panel with statistics regarding drug and alcohol use, conveying how widespread the issue is today.
Panelist Ms. Amy McDonnell is a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach and a Recovery Support Specialist for Aware, an organization that helps addicts fight their addiction. Ms. McDonnell personally struggled with drug addiction, which began when she was exposed to it at the age of 14. She spoke to students about her experiences and recovery process. 
Panelist Ms. Kera Townsend grew up in New Canaan and began her struggle with alcohol abuse in the eighth grade. She spoke about her own personal experience with addiction and how she got her life back on track after asking for help and support from those around her.
Ms. Townsend highlighted that reaching out to those around her for support was crucial in overcoming her struggle with addiction.
“It’s important to have compassion,” Ms. Townsend said. “Have compassion for yourself, and for those around you who may be struggling.”
Sacred Heart members of the First Selectman’s Youth Commission. From left to right, Grace Thompson ’19, Katherine Santoro ’19, Elisabeth Hall ’18, Gigi Jervis ’19. Courtesy of Ms. Jennifer Byxbee.

Mr. Gary Mendell, Chairman and Founder of Shatterproof, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending addiction, also participated in the panel. Mr. Mendell founded Shatterproof after his son Brian ended his life after battling the shame of addiction for years. Mr. Mendell’s story about his own family resonated with students and demonstrated the true impact that addiction can have on those afflicted with it.
While speaking of his son, Mr. Mendell challenged students to think of those who struggle with addiction in a different light.
“Brian wasn’t a bad kid for struggling with addiction. He had a disease,” Mr. Mendell said. “It’s important that we recognize addiction for what it is – a disease.”
Junior Grace Thompson, one of the five Sacred Heart members of the FSYC and current Vice Chair on the board, commented about the impact she believed that the panel had on students.
“I think that the opioid and drug and alcohol addiction epidemic is a major issue that our generation is going to have to face and attack head-on,” Grace said. “The panel we held at Sacred Heart is one small step towards making a necessary change in our community.”
[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
– Katherine Santoro, Staff Writer
Featured image by Katherine Santoro ’19.