PORTAGE | Jackie Sterling looked out at the some 150 students from the steps of City Hall here Monday afternoon.
"Your life is precious and we want to save as many of you as we can," she told the fourth and fifth graders from Aylesworth and Meyers elementary schools.
"We want you to be the best you can be. We don't want you to lose your potential," she said.
Sterling is chairman of the Porter County Red Ribbon Campaign, which kicked off Monday with speeches, encouraging words, a balloon launch and cookies shaped like ribbons.
The week of activities, from Oct. 23 through 31, is aimed at discouraging students from using drugs by providing early education, said Sterling.
Elementary students throughout Porter County will sign a drug-free pledge.
A curriculum has been developed for seventh and eighth graders, said Beatrice Owen, director of the Porter County Substance Abuse Council, that will teach drug-free lessons during math, social studies and health classes.
Portage Mayor James Snyder, Police Chief Troy Williams and Portage High School home school adviser Tim Kunstek all addressed the students before they launched the red balloons that floated upward and eastward on the windy brisk morning.
"This is not just a school issue, not just a police issue, it is a community issue," Williams told the group, encouraging the youngsters to "have the strength inside of you to say 'no.'"
"You need to battle against drugs all the time," Kunstek said as he introduced members of the PHS Captain's Council consisting of captains of various sports teams. "They didn't reach their goals by using drugs."
Snyder encouraged the students to "just say no to drugs and say yest to a happy family ... healthy life ... good job and ... even a better Portage."