Photo: Maria del Mar Piedrabuena

The Riverhead CAP “Say No to Drugs” march returned to downtown Riverhead Friday morning after a two-year pandemic hiatus, welcomed back by perfect spring weather and hundreds of enthusiastic participants and spectators.

The march brought together Pulaski Street School students and teachers, CAP student mentors and volunteers, elected officials, school administrators and community members for the 35th annual march against drugs.

The march circled the neighborhood south of Pulaski Street School before returning to the school’s front lawn for a rally and closing ceremonies — followed by a picnic lunch served up by the Riverhead Moose Lodge and an ice cream dessert provided by the Pulaski Street PTO.

Photo: Maria del Mar Piedrabuena

Pulaski Street School Principal Patrick Burke served as master of ceremonies at the rally, which kicked off with the presentation of colors by the Riverhead High School NJROTC and the National Anthem sung by raw Pulaski Street Blue Notes Select Choir.

Riverhead Councilman Ken Rothwell, who attended the march and rally with fellow council members Frank Beyrodt and Bob Kern, presented Riverhead CAP President Brian Stark with a Town Board proclamation declaring June 10, 2022 “Say No to Drugs Day” in the Town of Riverhead.

State Assembly members Fred Thiele and Jodi Giglio, county legislators Al Krupski and Bridget Fleming, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney and school board members Matt Wallace, Virginia Healy and Colin Palmer participated in the march and rally to support Pulaski Street fifth and sixth graders.

Riverhead School Superintendent Augustine Tornatore presented awards to the winners of the 2022 CAP art contest, the theme of which was “Dreams Come True with Healthy Decisions.” Emily Puluc Zurdo, a student in Ms. Perry’s fifth grade class, and Samuel Serrano Nunez, a student in Ms. Devlin’s sixth grade class, took home certificates and $100 Tanger Outlets gift cards, donated by the outlet center.

School Superintendent Augustine Tornatore with CAP art contest winners Emily Puluc Zurdo, left, and Samuel Serrano Nunez.
Photos: Maria del Mar Piedrabuena

The keynote speaker at the rally was Tijuana Fulford, founder of The Butterfly Effect Project, an organization she established in 2014 to empower and support girls and “create a safe space for girls to dream and succeed.”

Fulford spoke of the importance of the CAP program in her own life when she was a young girl growing up in Riverhead.

“When I was in 4th grade, I put this shirt on and I thought to myself, like, I’m never going to do drugs,” Fulford recalled. “And coming where I come from,” she said, that was something of a longshot.

“For most of the people I encountered, most of the people that I hung out with, people around me came from drug-fueled homes, where somebody sold drugs or somebody did drugs,” she said.

“But being in the CAP program gave me some options. It gave me some smiling faces, it gave me some older girls and young men I could look up to, that when I walked into the room they understood without a shadow of a doubt, ‘You’re not going to do drugs, because I’m going to make sure that you don’t do drugs,’” she told the crowd gathered on the lawn.

“I know at times it doesn’t seem like someone not in your particular situation can save you, but trust and believe that when you see Miss Tia standing up here, everyone outside of my particular situation, everyone …did save me.”

Fulford spoke of making good decisions each and every day.

“I promise you, if you make the wrong decision it will change your life. If you make the wrong decision, it will change how you see, how you think, how you feel, and how you look. If you make the wrong decision, you’ll lose your friends, you may lose your family and most important, you will lose yourself,” Fulford warned.

“So I stand and say, saying no to drugs, unapologetically, without making excuses for it — do not waiver — just saying no to drugs, will say yes to everything else about you,” she said.

“Saying no to vaping is saying yes to being a soprano in a choir. Saying no to cigarettes is saying yes to breathing and inhaling deeply. Saying no is saying yes to all of your dreams and goals that are waiting for you to achieve them, saying yes to an opportunity that is waiting for you, that was designed purposely for you, saying yes to your future,” Fulford said.

“This community is behind you 100%,” she told the children. “We are from a community that does not waiver. They will not let you down. They will never not support you. We are here for you, to get you to the next point,” Fulford said.

Maria Del Mar Piedrabuena contributed reporting and photos.

Additional photos by Alek Lewis

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.