Pinwheels at Pequannock High School represent young lives lost

POMPTON PLAINS — Forty Pequannock Township High School students from three clubs placed 500 pinwheels across the front lawn of the school Thursday — a day before the homecoming football game — to spread awareness about the dangers of underage drinking.

The Pinwheels Prevention Project, new to Morris County, is designed to visually represent the 5,000 Americans under the age of 21 who die as a result of drinking each year.

“Each pinwheel represents 10 deaths due to underage drinking,” said Phyllis Minicuci, project coordinator for the Pequannock Township Coalition. “It’s a very powerful statement and I’m proud of the students. They stepped up and did a terrific job.”

The statistic, from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, breaks down grimly: 1,900 lives are lost in motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 in homicides, 300 from suicides, and hundreds more from injuries caused by drownings, falls and burns.

“I wasn’t aware of how many people actually died until I saw all these pinwheels,” said Nikola Baded, a Pequannock high school junior and member of Future Business Leaders of America, as an autumn breeze spun the bright-colored wheels all around him.

“They’re a good visual image,” he added. “They’ll make kids actually think about what they’re doing when they go out and party.”

Also helping to place the pinwheels were members of the high school’s Interact Club, an arm of the Rotary Club, and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).

“We see bad things happen in our school and we want to put a stop to it,” said McKenzie Kennelly, a senior and a member of the Interact Club. “A lot of people in the Interact Club are focused on bonding together the community, making it a better place.”

Bringing the pinwheels project to Morris is the brainchild of the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris whose coordinator, Barb Kauffman, raised the idea locally after reading about a Salem County high school that planted pinwheels on its premises.

During this inaugural year, she said, two other Morris high schools — Morris Knolls High School in Denville and Jefferson Township High School — also came forward to participate.

“We continually tell messages to our kids. With a project like this, they’re telling their message,” Kauffman said. “It’s fun. It’s easy, and the fact that they’re part of it makes it much more meaningful.”

As the students come into the homecoming football game at Morris Knolls Saturday, each will be handed a pinwheel, Kauffman explained. At halftime, the pinwheels will be placed around the perimeter of the field as their meaning is publicly announced.

“Hopefully, momentum will build,” Kauffman said, “and, every year, we’ll have more and more high schools participating.”

Helping the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris make the project possible at Pequannock Township High School are the Pequannock Township Coalition and the Pequannock Municipal Alliance. Partners at the other schools include the Jefferson Township Municipal Alliance and Rockaway Township SAFE Youth.

Lorraine Ash: 973-428-6660; lash@dailyrecord.com

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