By Nancy KrizCENTRAL VALLEY — Planning the Oct. 26 Monroe-Woodbury CARES Day to promote compassion, acceptance, respect, empowerment and success takes time and Monroe-Woodbury School District officials have used past initiatives to help shape the planning for the ambitious student conference. It started back in Fall 2016 when Monroe-Woodbury High School established a Drug and Alcohol Community Council, dedicated to the education and prevention of drugs and alcohol use by students.‘Partnership with our community’“The vision was to create a partnership with our community to help support and educate our youth to live in healthy environments that are free from the effects of alcoholism and other addictive diseases,” said Principal John Kaste.Early meetings included high school and middle school administration; high school social workers, health staff, and teachers, representatives of the Monroe and Woodbury police departments, the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Council of Orange County (ADAC), the Monroe-Woodbury Clergy Association, the Monroe-Woodbury PTA Council, Catholic Charities, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and students. Many awareness and education programs were discussed and planned. With the support of the district, the two police departments, the New York State National Guard Counter Drug Task Force and the Monroe-Woodbury Clergy Association, a “Save a Life Forum” was held in late fall 2016. “The forum featured several compelling speakers who shared personal stories of losing a child to drug overdose as well as success stories told by two different people who were addicted to alcohol and drugs,” said Kaste. The event included information booths, a discreet question and answer period and a Hidden Mischief Room on display. Hidden Mischief is an interactive display where participants searched for hidden drugs and paraphernalia, while learning about concealment methods and drug culture references. This was followed with an in-depth discussion about the room, current trends and an additional question and answer session. Speakers who offered meaningConcurrently, the council also talked about speakers who could be meaningful and impactful to students. “We began discussing possible presenters and Marc Mero came up repeatedly,” said Kaste. Mero is a retired amateur boxer and professional wrestler who is also a motivational speaker. He is best known for his appearances with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) under his real name and with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) under the ring name “Johnny B. Badd.”Now, Mero contributes his time to the nonprofit organization he founded in 2007, called Champion of Choices. Mero’s Champion of Choices looks to inspire people to examine their life choices. In his presentations to schools nationwide, Mero seeks to instill in his audiences “a greater sense of appreciation toward their relationships and the ‘gift of time’” and how they can empower themselves to make a difference in their personal life, school, career and community.Kaste found out that Mero would be speaking at Fieldstone Middle School in nearby Montvale, N.J., in May 2017.“He emailed the principal of the school and asked if a few of us could come to hear Marc speak,” said Dawn Tauber, MW CARES Day chair. “At that time, we didn’t know that MW CARES Day was beginning to take root.” ‘Messages of resilience’Kaste, along with other Drug and Alcohol Council members, attended the school’s “3Rs Day: Respect-Reflect-Remember,” where Mero was its keynote speaker. “Marc and other speakers gave messages of resilience and ways to make positive changes in the world, even through times of intense grief,” he said. “Marc told the students ways they can start making changes at school by sitting with or talking to students who may be isolated and by just being more kind. We were so moved and inspired by the day. We left that afternoon and the idea of bringing something similar to Monroe-Woodbury was quickly becoming our vision.”The smaller group approached Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez. who immediately gave her support, with a debriefing about the Fieldstone visit given to the full council at its next meeting. “The council was just as inspired as us, and the planning began for ‘our day,’” said Tauber. “The first task was to create a name for the day. We discussed the values that we felt were important to be incorporated into the day. Compassion, acceptance, respect, empowerment and success were the five values that were reoccurring during the discussion. This translated into MW CARES.”In late May of last year, the date for MW CARES Day was set for Oct. 26 of this year, with the committee knowing it would need that time to plan and coordinate the details of their vision. A conference logo contest was held, with student Christina Bitzer’s entry being selected. “The committee felt that Christina’s logo captured the meaning of the day,” Tauber added. Shortly after that visit to Fieldstone, organizers began to research, recruit and confirm the attendance of over 100 speakers -- from all walks of life and from all areas of the nation - to speak on the values that represent what the day will be all about. Organizers hope speakers’ experiences will help students face their own struggles or challenges and open a dialogue about their feelings or situations, making a difference in their own lives or the lives of others.“The goal of the day,” Kaste said, “is to inspire our students in overcoming challenges and being a positive influence on themselves and our community.” Editor’s note: In support of Monroe-Woodbury High School’s initiative to promote and reinforce compassion, acceptance, respect, empowerment and success - this is the next Photo News installment leading up to the Oct. 26 M-W CARES Day.