By TIM CLEVELAND
Late last year, Boardman High School hosted a Yes Fest during which its students heard talks from parents who had lost children to drug overdoses, then met various local organizations that offered help for drug abuse and volunteer opportunities for them to make a difference.
After hearing of the success of the Boardman Yes Fest, Cardinal Mooney High School hosted its own Yes Fest on April 30.
“We saw Boardman High School’s event; they did it in November,” said Ruth Mastriana, a member of Mooney’s counseling department and the coordinator of the Yes Fest. “I heard about it and I contacted Boardman High School and asked them what it was all about, how it all worked. They were extremely welcoming to us. We met with them, they came here. They showed it how it was done and they are coming here today to support us.”
Boardman High School Principal Jared Cardillo explained the history of how the Yes Fest began.
“Probably back in September we had a tragedy of a recent graduate who had passed away because of a drug overdose,” he said. “Teachers, administrators and students all wanted to do something. They wanted to start becoming proactive. A couple of us met and were just throwing around ideas and we’ve all heard of ‘Say no to Drugs’ and we just wanted to put a positive spin on it. We not only wanted to tell kids to say no to drugs, but we wanted to give them an opportunity to say yes to some things. Before we knew it, the Yes Fest grew out of it. We had some really powerful speakers come to our school and really connected with our students.
“It was a great day at Boardman High School and I was approached by John Young, the principal here at Mooney. He had heard about it and we’ve just been sharing our ideas and we’re really happy that they’re doing it here today at Mooney.”
The 500-member Mooney student body gathered in the school’s auditorium where they heard from three speakers; Boardman residents Angelo Martino and Anna Howells, who both lost sons to drug overdoses, and nationally known motivational speaker David Kohut, who encouraged the students to recognize their strengths and their ability to make a meaningful contribution to their community. Fr. Gerald DeLucia, Cardinal Mooney president, Boardman police chief Jack Nichols, a Cardinal Mooney graduate, and Youngstown police chief Robin Lees also participated.
Howells said that her and Martino’s sons, A.J. and Dennis, were friends, and 24 hours after A.J. passed away on Aug. 1, 2012, at age 32, Martino went to the Howells residence to encourage Dennis to stop doing drugs. Howells said that, unfortunately, the warning went unheeded. Dennis continued to use heroin and passed away June 5, 2013, at age 30.
Martino and Howells shared memories of their sons, as well as cautionary messages of their drug abuse. Martino told the Mooney students that a wise man learns from his mistakes, while a wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. Howells said that there is no criteria of addictions, that anyone is fair game.
After listening to the talks, the Mooney students moved to the gymnasium where 40-50 community organizations awaited to offer services and volunteer opportunities. The students also signed the Yes Pledge as a promise to take positive action to be drug free and to be a positive influence in society.
Cardillo said he was pleased that Mooney became the second area school to host the Yes Fest.
“It’s great. It’s something we really poured our hearts into and sometimes when you do that you become protective of it, but the people here have been great and it’s been great to share it,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about kids and it’s about helping kids make great decisions. We’re just happy we’ve been able to partner with Mooney to do this for their kids.
“There have been other schools that have inquired about it but Mooney is the only school that’s actually to this point putting it in place.”