Purple Takes WA

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By Fatimah Nouilati                                                                                                           Staff Writer

Throughout the diverse community at Westford Academy, students are constantly coming together to do activities they love, ranging from French club to lacrosse. This year, another group of students and staff members have come together to take a stand against drugs and substance abuse with the recently established Project Purple.

Project Purple is an initiative of the the Herren Project, a non-profit foundation established by former NBA basketball player Chris Herren. Herren fell victim to drug addiction and eventually hit rock bottom. After almost losing everything, Herren’s life was fortunately turned around after a very long, difficult struggle.

Herren has now dedicated his life to helping others with addictions, along with preventing them from developing. Project Purple brings awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and portrays effective treatment practices.

People have questioned if there is any significance to the color purple. At one of the local high schools that Herren spoke at in 2011, the students sitting in the front row were all wearing purple. At the end of Herren’s speech, one of the girls in a purple shirt stood to speak.

She said, “Thank you Mr. Herren for validating what we do. We are the sober students of this high school and each year we take a pledge to not use drugs or alcohol.”

Herren was blown away by her courage and admired the symbolism of the purple shirts. This inspired Herren to make a difference amongst teenagers across the United States.

Here at Westford Academy, there are so many teachers to look up to who can connect with their students. Being the role models they are to many, they have introduced Westford Academy to Project Purple.

Health and wellness teacher Melanie Jozokos is a huge supporter of the Herren Project. The first time most WA seniors heard about Herren and what he does was in Jozokos’ senior health seminar.

Jozokos, along with fellow health and wellness teacher Brian Roark, visited Burlington High School in 2012 to see Herren speak. They were moved by his documentary Unguarded, which they had previously watched. After hearing Herren speak, they knew he had to be brought to Westford Academy.

Jozokos feels that Herren is an excellent speaker and has a way of capturing the audience’s attention. She also says that the fact that Herren began his career as a local high school athlete allows students to relate to his story.

With the help and funding of Westford Against Substance Abuse, Westford Parent Connection, WA athletics, and WA trustees, Westford Academy was able to have Herren come speak at the school in May 2013. He spoke to seniors one day and spoke again at night for the Westford community. Jozokos says that when she first heard Herren speak about Project Purple, she knew it was something that could be brought to WA.

The launching of the club WA has had a lot of support from the whole community including students, administration, and teachers. Along with Jozokos and Roark, WA’s Mr. O’Leary, Mr. Towers, Mr. Gagne, Mrs. Rybicki, Ms. Murphy, and Detective Agraz have all taken the pledge to support Project Purple and the students in the club.

“It is a good project that gives adults and students an opportunity to stand up for something they believe in and have support,” said Agraz.

Just a few of the WA students that have joined Project Purple are seniors Alicia Luther, Brian Uram, and Kelli Mcdermott, along with many others. The students who have begun to participate are wearing Project Purple t-shirts on Fridays in January. January is the anniversary month of the creation of the project, and this month marks two years. Students have started to recruit other peers, allowing Project Purple to slowly expand at WA.

“I’m not against smoking and drinking, I’m just personally standing up to it. I want my future to be bright and not dependent on constantly partying. I believe you can have a good time without drugs and alcohol,” said Luther.

Jozokos hopes that Project Purple will allow students to feel like they can fit in without drugs or alcohol. The goal of Westford Academy’s Project Purple is to promote positive peer pressure and show students they can stand up for anything and they will have full support. The following excerpt is Westford’s Project Purple mission statement:

“Westford’s Project Purple empowers individuals to be true to themselves while standing up and resisting the temptations of drugs and alcohol. We are committed to celebrating life and supporting one another in the face of these challenges.”

 “I want students like me to open their eyes to a pure future and notice that there are better things to do than waste your high school memories you can’t even remember,” said Luther.

Project Purple students came together before the winter break to produce videos promoting Project Purple within WA and to enter into the Go Project Purple Launch Contest run by the Herren Project. The videos were also shown on the morning announcements to show students what the club is about.

The number one winner of the contest would get to have Herren come to their school to speak. One of WA’s video entries made fifth place and is on the Project Purple website. The members of WA Project Purple are attending a Celtics game, Herren’s former team, as a reward for fifth place this month.

Jozokos is ecstatic about Westford Academy being on Project Purple’s website and the support the club has been receiving.

“I am so proud to be a teacher here. Westford Academy is really a special place.” she said.