Informed Families Blog

Family Focus: The Strunck Family

Posted by Informed Families on November 16, 2018 at 10:51 AM

Written by: Nikki Strunck, mother

The sixth overdose was fatal. My only child Brendan died at the age of 24.

He and some friends started messing around with pot when he was 13. By the age of 14, he got oxycodone pills from a friend, and by 16, he was addicted to heroin.

I grieved for my son for years before he died. As difficult as talking about this is, if I can help one person not die, this is worth it.

I think when Brendan was small, I thought he would try drinking and smoking pot. I was not prepared for opioid abuse.

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Topics: drug use, drug prevention, opioids, parents

Family Focus: Melissa & Demetrius Branca

Posted by Informed Families on August 30, 2018 at 4:26 PM

Family Focus: Melissa & Demetrius Branca

Four years ago, Melissa Branca received a call that would change her life forever. Her stepson Anthony was struck and killed by a distracted driver on his way to work. He was hit in his vehicle while waiting to make a left turn. The truck driver, who was going 40 miles per hour when he hit Anthony, received a $1,100 fine and a 6-month license suspension for careless driving. Anthony died one month before his 20th birthday.

“When you experience a loss of this magnitude, everything changes…you turn into a completely different person,” said Branca. “I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. This shouldn’t have happened. It was preventable. Distracted driving is an underserved problem, legislatively and otherwise.”

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Topics: parents, driving, impaired driving, distracted driving, Florida

Family Focus: Ginger Katz of the Courage To Speak Foundation

Posted by Informed Families on July 11, 2018 at 11:57 AM

When Ginger Katz’s 20-year-old son Ian died of a drug overdose, the doctors suggested she tell people that he died of a heart attack or brain aneurysm. Katz said that the night before the funeral, she couldn’t sleep, feeling “physically, spiritually and intellectually” unable to attend the next day’s events.

“I felt that [for me to attend the funeral] they’d have to carry me,” said Katz. “Then, I’m not sure where it came from but at some point that night, I visualized speaking out. I was not one for public speaking but I woke my husband up and told him that I wanted to speak out. I said, ‘if this is happening to us, it’s happening to other families and no one is talking about it.’”

Twenty-two years later, Ginger and her husband Larry Katz are still talking about their experience through the non-profit organization they ultimately founded: the Courage to Speak Foundation. They make presentations to children, parents, educators, clergy, professionals and others in 40 states. Knowing that their story alone could only take families so far, Ginger and Larry worked with a team of experts to develop curriculum evaluated and recommended by the Yale School of Medicine. Their elementary, middle and high school curriculum is implemented across the country. Additionally, they offer a multi-session program for parents called Courage to Speak -Courageous Parenting 101®.

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Topics: parents, overdose, drug prevention, opioids

Star Ambassador: Freda Colley of Duval County

Posted by Informed Families on November 29, 2017 at 1:16 PM

Freda Colley may be a relatively new Informed Families Ambassador, but she is no stranger to prevention. Colley, a Certified Prevention Specialist and the Northeast Florida Coordinator for Keep Kids Drug Free (KKDF), has been dedicating her time and talent to preventing youth substance abuse for 18 years.

Colley, an employee of Gateway Community Services, works to help students grow up safe, healthy and drug free through Informed Families’ four campaigns and several other initiatives. She learned about the ambassador program through a colleague, Vicki Kress from SMA Behavioral Health.

In her role with KKDF, she manages evidence-based prevention programs. This year, she incorporated Red Ribbon Week into her efforts for the first time and it was a huge success.

"I had connections in the community for working in prevention for so long," said Colley. "I contacted a local school, Chimney Lakes Elementary, with a strong PTA and parent base. We made sure to do something each day for the whole week, starting with an assembly with the students letting them know what and why we were doing. We focused on creating awareness that if you want to be an athlete, a singer, for example, or have success, drugs cannot be a part of your life. Students got involved and helped us by coming up with some ideas."

One particular success arising from the campaign was Colley's ability to reach parents with the drug prevention message. A total of 200 signed parent pledges were collected by the end of the week. While many children and teens are positively impacted by her programs directly, Colley, much like Informed Families, believes it is just as important to directly each their parents.
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Topics: red ribbon week, ambassadors, campaigns, parents

President's Message - July 2017

Posted by Peggy B. Sapp, President & CEO on July 19, 2017 at 5:03 PM

Visible & Invisible "Human Chains" Save Lives

To save a desperate, drowning family, 80 Florida citizens made a human chain on Panama City Beach in early July. What a beautiful reminder that by working together, we all have the power to keep children and families safe. News reports spoke of the dozens of beachgoers lining up in response to the desperate mother’s cries, organizing themselves by skill level, with the stronger swimmers in the deeper water and others standing closer to the shore.

A tragedy was prevented and the story spread like wildfire. Why? Because the story warmed our hearts. Who doesn’t love a story about a large group of complete strangers coming together to save children in danger?

That’s what Informed Families’ supporters do each year…they build a network of people to help kids grow up safe, healthy and drug free.  Donors, volunteer Ambassadors, educators, counselors, parents, schools, law enforcement and community organizations form networks to take our four campaigns and prevention messages to schools, building safety nets for children across Florida.

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Topics: President's Message, parents, summer, drug abuse, drug prevention

President's Message - June 2017

Posted by Peggy B. Sapp, President & CEO on June 20, 2017 at 11:33 AM

Unplug To Connect With Your Children This Summer

Summer offers a sense of freedom for kids. With school out of session, children gain a great deal of free time. As parents you take on more responsibility; it’s your responsibility to keep children active physically and mentally and to not leave them to their own devices. While some boredom is good for the teen brain, excessive free time can increase their risk to get involved in harmful behaviors.

Did you know that summer is the riskiest time of the year for teens and drugs? Research shows that more teens try marijuana and other drugs for the first time in June and July than any other time of the year. 

As your first priority, plan time to just have fun together, connecting as a family. Turn off the Media madness (that means you too!) and play a game. You’ll be surprised how much fun it is. Plus, it will reduce your stress and increase bonding, as you learn more about each person in the family. Spending time together walking, swimming or hiking outdoors is also a great chance to stay fit and connected. If one activity turns disasterous, try another one. Don't give up on connecting with your children.  

Communicate with your kids about the things they want to do this summer. Open them up to positive activities such as a sport, community serivce or have them take additional summer classes to keep their minds sharp and vibrant. Don’t allow their minds to become addicted to screens. And monitor what they are consuming when they are watching screens. Common Sense Media is a wonderful, time-saving tool.

If you have two minutes to spare, we'd love to get your feedback on issues that matter to you, as we are always striving to offer you the best research-based support to help your kids grow up safe, healthy and drug free.

I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for all the wonderful dads out there. I hope you had a great Father's Day. 

Until next time,



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Topics: President's Message, parents, summer, marijuana, drug abuse

President's Message - May 2017

Posted by Peggy B. Sapp, President & CEO on May 24, 2017 at 6:29 PM

The Secret To Our Success Is You & Making Protective Factors A Reality

There’s really nothing like Informed Families’ Annual Dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant.  Joe’s is a Miami institution known throughout the world as the place to see and be seen! During stone crab season (October-May), customers wait in line for hours just to experience their amazing stone crabs, cole slaw, hash browns and famous key lime pie.

Our first stone crab dinner was the idea of Informed Families’ Board member Dorothy Shula, the late wife of Don Shula, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Jo Anne Sawitz Bass and her son Steve Sawitz hosted our first Joe’s dinner 32 years ago, which was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and partnership. The restaurant closes to the public at the very end of stone crab season and opens its doors to friends of Informed Families for one night to help Florida’s children grow up safe, healthy and drug free.

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Topics: President's Message, parents, protective factors

President's Message - April 2017

Posted by Peggy B. Sapp, President & CEO on April 25, 2017 at 5:44 PM

Listen Up: Teen Mistakes & Their Unintended, Permanent Consequences

4,300 children die each year due to underage drinking-related causes. Springtime is a peak time for celebrations - and that's why parents need to take steps to ensure parties held in their home and in the community are Safe Homes, Smart Parties. Sure, there’s a chance your kids will make it out unscathed, but is it really worth the risk? 

US District Court Judge Beth Bloom and her son Jacob Stern, a high school student then attending Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, developed a presentation called "Listen Up: Teen Mistakes & Their Unintended, Permanent Consequences." For a busy parent of a teenager, Jacob's presentation is concise, eye-opening and should be mandatory viewing for both kids and parents! I ask you to please watch our 30-minute video and share it with your friends who are raising teenagers. Get the family together and spend 30 minutes to save yourselves a lot of time, money and hassle. The beauty of online viewing is you can stop and restart at your convenience.

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Topics: President's Message, parents, safe homes smart parties, alcohol, safe parties

President's Message - March 2017

Posted by Peggy B. Sapp, President & CEO on March 31, 2017 at 9:29 AM

Two Things I've Learned About Prom & Graduation Season

It’s Party Time! Prom, Spring Break, Graduation... We want our kids to have fun and create memories – but we want them to be safe. Both can be achieved by serving the best thing parents can serve their children: common sense. Kids who start drinking before age 15 are 6 times more likely to develop alcohol problems as adults. And with 4,300 children dying each year due to underage drinking-related causes, we all need to help our kids celebrate safely.

The two things I’ve learned about Prom & Graduation Season are:

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Topics: President's Message, parents, safe homes smart parties, alcohol, safe parties

Star Ambassador: Martina Belotti of Monroe County

Posted by Informed Families on March 16, 2017 at 11:55 AM

After raising five kids and running a full time child care center for over two decades, Martina "Tina" Belotti has dedicated her life to helping all Monroe County children have a bright future. As an Informed Families Ambassador and professional counselor at Marathon Middle School and Marathon High School, Tina works to help students grow up safe, healthy and drug free through Informed Families’ four campaigns and several other initiatives.

“I originally heard about Informed Families over the years at different statewide conferences,” said Tina. “I am very happy to be an Ambassador and gain access to the resources they provide me. As a prevention counselor, I do a monthly presentation to students, in addition to various groups, and I typically have to seek out and be creative about obtaining materials. I want the kids to get excited about prevention on campus so it helps.”

From running lunchtime youth-led pledge campaigns and coordinating activities for Red Ribbon Week to delivering the evidence-based program Project Success and volunteering with a team of students for various events such as the 7 Mile Bridge Run, Tina possesses a seemingly endless supply of energy and passion for her work. However, her budget for programs and activities is extremely limited. Luckily, what Tina lacks in finances, she makes up for in human resources. Tina works with her daughter, Dr. Christina Belotti, an 8th grade Language Arts teacher at Marathon Middle School, to coordinate school-wide activities with 40 student volunteers, or Youth Ambassadors appropriately named the “Keys To Be The Change.”

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Topics: red ribbon week, ambassadors, campaigns, parents, safe homes smart parties

About Us

We teach people how to say no to drugs and how to make healthy choices. To reduce the demand for drugs, Informed Families has focused its efforts on educating and mobilizing the community, parents and young people in order to change attitudes. In this way we counteract the pressures in society that condone and promote drug and alcohol use and abuse. The organization educates thousands of families annually about how to stay drug and alcohol free through networking and a variety of programs and services .

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