Posted on Nov 12, 2019
On the 5th and 6th of November, Alliston Community Policing and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit held its 11th annual R.A.C.E. against Drugs rally for Grade 5 students in Alliston.  Over the two-day event, more than 700 kids from 16 schools were bussed in to the New Tecumseth Recreation Centre Field House, where they assembled into groups of 15-20 and made their way around 11 “pit stops” at eight-minute intervals.
Each pit stop was designed to educate them about various risks – alcohol, tobacco, vaping, prescription drugs, cannabis, illegal substances and even gambling – at a time in their young lives when they may first be exposed to peer pressure and other influences.  “HOW TO SAY NO” was the message presented at every pit stop,” explained Patricia Middlebrook, President of Alliston Community Policing and a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Alliston.
“Our aim is to build awareness of addictions and encourage them to delay first use as long as possible” added Cathy Eisner, a public health nurse with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and Co-Chair of the R.A.C.E. committee with Patricia.  “The learning they get today will help them make more responsible choices in the future.”
Stop #1 on the layout was an artwork station, with a supply of plan brown LCBO liquor bags and colored markers.  The kids were invited to write messages, such as “Think of Me” and “Don’t Drink and Drive,” and add pictures to illustrate their feelings.  The finished bags are given to the LCBO to use during the annual RIDE program throughout the month of December.
The racetrack format provides fun and interest while they learn.  For example, at Stop #11, Officer John Mortimer of the Nottawasaga OPP explained the meaning of impairment.  He had the kids “walk the line,” heel to toe, to demonstrate a sobriety test for a driver who is suspected of being impaired.  Then he had them don a pair of goggles which simulated what someone would see if they were under the influence of alcohol at twice the legal limit.  The wobbly, disoriented attempts to walk the same line brought great laughter from each child’s classmates, and an eye-opening lesson for the participant.
“It’s all about mindfulness,” said Officer Shawn Evans, a 31-year veteran of the OPP, who led the event.  “We want you to understand what upsets you and how to calm yourself when your emotions are worked up.  You’ll make better, more responsible decisions instead of turning to substances as a coping mechanism.”
Cathy Eisner outlined the rationale behind the program, where “R.A.C.E.” stands for Respect, Action, Courage and Excellence: “The mental health piece is vitally important.  We’re teaching them how to deal with stressors.  At this age, they’re ready to absorb lessons, like delaying the first use of legal or illegal substances as long as possible.  What they’re not ready for is experimentation with drugs.  That’s because the brain isn’t fully developed until age 25, and any kind of substance use by pre-teens or teens interferes with its growth.”
Each year, this outstanding program is organized by the tireless efforts of the Nottawasaga R.A.C.E. Committee, with volunteers from Alliston Community Policing, Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit, Nottawasaga OPP, both school boards and the County of Simcoe Paramedic Services.  The Rotary Club of Alliston, the Nottawasaga Police Services Board and Honda of Canada Mfg. are major sponsors, with assistance from Alliston McDonalds, Giant Tiger and Water Depot.  Members of the Rotary Club of Alliston and Alliston Community Policing served as volunteers each day to staff some of the pit stops.
“It’s good to see all the volunteers that come out to support us,” said Rick Milne, Mayor of New Tecumseth, who is president of the Police Services Board and drops by every year.  “Everything runs on volunteers, and the success of this event is a tribute to all their effort.”
For Officer Evans, the ideal outcome of the R.A.C.E. against Drugs is seeing young people make good, informed choices.  “Kids are subjected to all kinds of pressure in high school, like peer pressure, bullying and thoughts of suicide,” he noted.  “It takes strength, leadership and resiliency to do the right things.  In this program, we encourage them to be the best they can be every single day.”