By kalea hall
Although it was the fourth time Anna Howells spoke to students at Boardman High School about her son’s drug overdose, she still choked up.
Howells lost her son in June, but her battle with fighting drug use continues, just as Angelo Martino Sr.’s does since his son’s death in August 2012.
Both spoke to 1,500 students Tuesday at Boardman High School for “Yes Fest,” an assembly created by school administrators to encourage students to not only say no to drugs, but to also say yes to what life has to offer.
“I am here to begin a journey that I promised my son I would take as he laid on the bedroom floor,” Howells said to the crowd.
Tuesday was the first time the school had “Yes Fest.” Many of the students walked through the halls sporting their “Yes Fest” shirts.
Throughout the day, each grade level, from seniors to freshmen, heard from two parents grieving the loss of their sons, Dennis Howells, 30, and AJ Martino, 32, both Boardman High School graduates. Those recent, untimely deaths, along with two other deaths of Boardman students, led high school Principal Jared Cardillo to take a look at what could be done to not lose another student to drugs and other addictions.
“Anybody we told about this has just been energized by it,” Cardillo said.
Representatives of more than 40 area agencies came to the school to offer the students a chance at making a difference by volunteering or the opportunity to ask for help if they need it.
Cardillo hopes to continue the “Yes Fest” every year. The seminar is like no other model. Usually, students are told “just say no” to drugs, but with this program they are told to do more and to go out and live life to the fullest.
Martino could have been relaxing on the beach in Florida as he was supposed to be Tuesday, but instead, he asked students to consider the alternatives to drug use.
“I beg each of you to learn to be a wiser man,” he said to students.
Martino, whose son battled an OxyContin addiction for nine years, also asked the students to keep him and Howells in their thoughts, as pictures of his son flashed on the backdrop behind him.
Howells’ son battled addiction for 15 years. She described drug addiction as “a disease that will swallow up” anyone who lets it.
Through all of the relapses her son had, she never gave up hope, and she never thought she would be in Martino’s shoes, but then she was when her son took his last breath.
“You have all heard to say no to drugs,” Howells said. “I am asking you to say yes to life.”
Students Sophia Schuler, 14, and Linh Tran, 14, both freshmen, thought the message was an important one.
“I liked how they shared their stories,” Tran said. “It gave a better connection.”
Rhonda Schuler, Sophia’s mother, also attended the seminar.
Rhonda realized the drug problem in the Valley is not something that affects only a small segment of the population.
“I think it’s such a positive move for Mr. Cardillo to put this on for the kids,” Rhonda Schuler said. “More importantly, this is something tangible.”