By Hannah Duncan LOWVILLE, N.Y. (NCC News) — At the Lewis County Fairgrounds on Saturday, kids got in the Halloween spirit when they put on zombie makeup and chased runners to try to take flags they were wearing. There was even an after-party with food and games, but there was also a much bigger purpose.
The money raised from registration at the First Annual Run/Walk for Drug Prevention goes to the United Prevention Coalition of Lewis County, or the UP! Coalition. UP! Coalition Coordinator Cassie Forbus said the race teaches the kids about the dangers of drug abuse, but it has a very important goal for the runners as well.
“I’m hoping they got a feel of community, that you don’t always have to end a race or a run with alcohol,” Forbus said. “I hope that they kind of know that their actions affect our youth. I think that they really got that visual, because most of them didn’t survive this run this year.”
Runners were trying to avoid the “apocalypse,” but if the kids took their flags then they became zombies as well and “didn’t survive.” High school athlete Peyton lost her flag, but she still said the event was a lot of fun and has a big impact.
“I wish there was more stuff like this going on in our community,” Peyton said. “I think this is a really good way to get people aware of what’s going on.”
Funded by a federal Drug-Free Communities grant, the main focus of the UP! Coalition is alcohol and prescription drugs in ages 12 to 17, but they also work with people all across the community including those in law enforcement and religious-based sectors to teach and raise awareness about the issues of alcohol and prescription drug abuse. The organization is in its third year.
Forbus came up with the idea for the race in 2012 when she was still teaching. She reached out to school districts in the area, offered community service hours, and got the kids involved with planning. Before the race, the kids dressing up as zombies took a short class and rotated through groups where they got makeup done and then heard messaging about everything from drugs and alcohol to bullying and even how to be good leaders in the community. Other activities at the after-party, such as seeing a car roll over to show the impact of wearing a seat belt, also taught about the importance of being healthy and safe.
For volunteer Marlene Palmer, her personal connection to the issue made the race even more meaningful.
“I have a family member that has struggled her entire life with drug abuse,” Palmer said. “She’s overcome it now, but there’s always the struggle and there’s always the need for support.”
Signs were put up along the race path with info about prescription drug use, but they also offered that support by saying where people can drop off their prescription drugs and more. Palmer also said that without the awareness and the help of a community, it is incredibly hard to overcome those struggles.
“There’s no chance of succeeding,” Palmer said. “You know, you need your community, you need your family, and you just need a strong support system.”
Forbus estimated that about 50 runners and 40 “zombies” were at the race. The UP! Coalition is already planning to go bigger for next year, maybe even with a helicopter at the beginning of the race to really reflect the idea that participants are “infected” and running for their life. This race kicked off the organization’s “Don’t Be a Zombie” campaign, which aims to further show the dangers and reduce the use of alcohol and other drugs, especially in the youth of Lewis County. For more resources and support, visit the UP! website.