On Nov. 14-15, 140 students and 13 staff members spent 32 hours within the confines of Amityville High School for the Awareness Weekend program.
The sleepover event began on Friday afternoon and lasted until 11 p.m. Saturday night. Amityville teacher Jason McGowan, who has been organizing the event since 2003, invited three guest speakers to share their own inspirational stories.
Peter Hawkins, who is confined to a wheelchair due to a car accident when he was a teenager, is one of the top wheelchair racers in the country. He shared his powerful story on perseverance and not giving up.
Liz, a recovering crack addict who served 10 years in jail for assault, had the students on the edge of their seat as she spoke about her drug and physical abuse. Now 12 years clean, Liz was able to strongly connect with the students because of her "realness" and honesty. She now helps teenagers who are struggling with addiction.
Chris Memoli was involved in a car accident while intoxicated and not wearing his seat belt. He now communicates through a device where he types out his response and the computer speaks for him. Through therapy, he is able to walk again. He also received his master’s degree and is living on his own. His story of overcoming adversity and triumphing over tragedy was hard-hitting.
Awareness Weekend allowed students to speak about things that have happened to them in their life in a confidential atmosphere. The two-day event also featured family groups, comprised of a student facilitator, an adult facilitator and 10 students. Among the groups’ activities were games, ice-breakers and discussion about the guest speakers.
Students had free time throughout the weekend to play basketball or volleyball, dance, take part in a manhunt in the school, or just hang out in the cafeteria with friends. It was a pressure-free environment where students could be themselves for the weekend. Parents came in to serve, the APTC and ATA donated food, and local establishments donated money. The community’s support helped make the weekend a huge success.
The event carried over to Monday, when all participants wore their “warm fuzzy” – a fuzzy ball of string – around their necks. Each string represented a hug.