Story and Photos by C. Jayden Smith
Avenida Del Mar was covered with red shirts on Monday evening, Oct. 24, as San Clemente residents, parents, and children enjoyed Chick-fil-A and an opportunity to learn from local public safety officials and about negative impacts of substance use.
The City of San Clemente combined its annual Red Ribbon Week parade and National Night Out for the first time, a concept that worked well, according to Beaches, Parks & Recreation Director Samantha Wylie.
“We’ve merged (the events) in an effort to focus on community safety and togetherness,” Wylie said Monday.
She added that she thought it was a good opportunity to see children representing local schools and families getting to experience the support from multiple facets of public safety that work to protect San Clemente.
The San Clemente High School Marching Alliance highlighted the Red Ribbon Parade with its performance, with the Cheer and Dance teams following closely behind down Del Mar along with other local students.
National Night Out featured performances from the Dance team and the Marching Alliances, informational booths with agencies such as the OC Crimestoppers, Partners4Wellness and California State Parks, and demonstrations from public safety officials.
San Clemente resident Lauren Gallegos, the community prevention director for the Wellness & Prevention Center, talked about what her organization does to prevent drug abuse and bring mental health issues to light.
“Substance use may be a coping mechanism for a young person struggling with stress, or (being overwhelmed), or depression,” she said. “Finding alternatives that serve passion and build a strong support system, and modeling coping skills are all ways that we can help.”
Gallegos, who periodically authors a monthly column for the San Clemente Times, referenced events such as the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department hosts twice each year.
Other organizations, she noted, such as the Community Outreach Alliance, Partners4Wellness, and the Boys and Girls Club of the South Coast Area provide programs in safe and supportive environments.
She also mentioned the importance of having open conversations and planned quality time within families to show that using alcohol and other substances are not the proper way to manage stress. It’s also important, she added, for authorities to implement polices to reduce access to drugs and support healthy development.
Capt. Tony Benfield, chief of San Clemente Police Services, spoke about the proliferation of fentanyl overdoses in recent years that became the leading cause of death for children aged 17 and under in Orange County in 2021.
“In 2021, we (saw) over 16,000 pills that had fentanyl in them,” he said. “In just the first eight months of this year, we’ve seen over 285,000 pills with fentanyl. This is a clear and present danger to the youth of this city.”
He added that he was happy to present in conjunction with the Red Ribbon Week festivities in order to spread general awareness about the issue and emphasize the need to talk to children about fentanyl.
Benfield also encouraged participation in the upcoming Take Back Day event on Saturday, Oct. 29, in which residents can bring expired medication to San Clemente City Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Police Services were joined by the Orange County Fire Authority, Marine Safety and the Community Emergency Response Team among others, to meet residents and introduce them to the agencies’ vehicles and responsibilities.
“The message here is that public safety is not one face,” Benfield said. “It’s not law and it isn’t fire, it’s everybody. We all work together to help keep San Clemente safe.”
C. Jayden Smith
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.