Bringing the Red Ribbon Campaign to Kansas

National-Red-Ribbon-LogoAt the risk of dating myself, I first became aware of the Red Ribbon Campaign in 1988 when I attended a meeting of the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth.  This was the original name of National Family Partnership, who began promoting the Red Ribbon Campaign nationwide.  My first thought was that this was nice and all, but would wearing red ribbons one week during the year make any difference in creating awareness about substance abuse, much less preventing it?

Fast forward to 1990, when the local coalition I was involved with received funding to help promote the Red Ribbon Campaign statewide. The Topeka Drug Awareness Coalition promoted the Red Ribbon Campaign at a local mall in Topeka, and I was among many volunteers who asked businesses to display Red Ribbon Campaign posters and hand out red ribbons.  While I believed that the campaign was important, I did not have a complete sense of who it could impact.

As I walked through the mall, a man approached me who worked as a custodian there.  He asked, “Can I have a red ribbon?”  While I was a little surprised, I said “of course!”  At that moment, he reached into his pocket and showed me his medallion that he had from Alcoholics Anonymous to remind him of his success in achieving and maintaining sobriety.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Red Ribbon Campaign would touch a life in this way.  While it’s designed as an awareness campaign, this single gesture made me aware that not only is prevention important, but so is recovery.  The Red Ribbon Campaign and its simple red ribbon truly was a symbol of a unified effort for both substance abuse prevention and recovery.

I will never forget this simple “ask” for a red ribbon.  Yes, the Red Ribbon Campaign is important, and you never know how it will touch a life.

Michelle Voth, Executive Director
Kansas Family Partnership

Michelle Voth has served as the executive director of KFP since 1997. Prior to that, she was a founding member and first board president of the organization. She was volunteer president of the Topeka Drug Awareness Coalition from 1990 – 1995. Michelle earned a master’s in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in political science and personnel administration from KU. Her work in substance abuse prevention has been recognized for starting the Kansas Red Ribbon Campaign by the State of Kansas (2001); National Enrique Camarena Award for Volunteerism by National Family Partnership (1996); Heart to Heart Volunteer Recognition by Volunteer Center of Topeka (1995) and Community Leader Award – Unified School District 501(1994).

2 thoughts on “Bringing the Red Ribbon Campaign to Kansas

  1. Michelle,
    You are so right – we never know how our efforts might affect one person…and even one life saved from the effects of drug/alcohol abuse is worth everything we do!
    I am so encouraged when I see the enthusiasm shown by our Kansas youth, especially when I see high school kids leading the way for younger students. Thanks for all you and KFP do to prevent death & injury on our roadways!

  2. Youth Leadership
    When I came to the Red Ribbon meeting in 2004, I was amazed at the youth leadership displayed. Enrique (Kiki) Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration Agent who was tortured and killed in Mexico in 1985 had said “I’m only one person but I want to make a difference.” In honor of Camarena’s memory and his battle against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors began to wear red badges of satin. Parents, sick of the destruction of alcohol and other drugs, had begun forming coalitions. Some of these new coalitions took Camarena as their model and embraced his belief that one person can make a difference. These coalitions also adopted the symbol of Camarena’s memory, the red ribbon.
    The students involved with Red Ribbon demonstrate that one person can make a difference and nothing happens without a leader. Red Ribbon leaders are not only impacting their generation, but the generations to come. Their hard work and energy opens the door for many students to take on leadership roles and promote good overall health as this year’s theme suggests: A Healthy Me is Drug Free!