By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY March 31, 2006 Their mission is accomplished.
The Sullivan County Cares Coalition has been putting on an annual Awareness Day at spots across the county for 24 years now.
Saturday will be the 25th Awareness Day and the last.
We feel that awareness is alive and well, said Sister Kevin John Shields, regional coordinator for the coalition who has been there since day one.
Twenty-seven years ago, Shields was working for the Archdiocese of New Yorks substance abuse program.
In Sullivan County, she saw a problem not only with alcohol and drugs, but with people stepping up to the plate to address them.
There was a tendency to constantly push the blame or the responsibility on others oh, its the police, oh, its the parents, she recalled. And to deny denial was a big thing.
She began reaching out to other agencies and looking for answers on the local level.
I decided what I needed was a coalition of people from all walks of life, and not just Catholic people, she recalled.
The board members and volunteers who have made the Cares Coalition work, who have provided a link between the community and the agencies that can help them, have been wonderful, Shields said.
Theyre what have made 25 years of Awareness Day happen.
A variety of agencies are invited each year to set up booths at the event.
This year, for example, the Recovery Center will host its poster contest award ceremony at the event and the United Way, local school districts and the Sullivan County Youth Bureau will all be represented.
The community is invited to wander through the booths, access the information they need in an informal and anonymous setting.
Some people might be too embarrassed to go to the headquarters of a certain organization, Shields said, but they feel secure walking into a community event.
I dont think weve had an Awareness Day in all the 25 years where someone hasnt said they got some very good help, she explained.
Theres also a focus on the good in Sullivan County with fun activities like this years Harlem Wizards performance and a scholarship award being presented to a Sullivan County senior.
These days, Shields feels its pretty easy to accentuate the positive.
When she came to town, there were people in the community who got very defensive when the problems of substance abuse were brought to the table.
The goal was to make people realize its nobodys fault, she said, and bring people together to change the cycle.
Together we can make a difference, but were not going to do that if were all pointing fingers, she explained. Our idea, in 25 years has accomplished we think, we hope our purpose.
The 25th Annual Awareness Day will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Monticello High School.
The theme this year is Be a Winner: Winners Arent Fooled by Drugs!