At 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).