Baseball legend Darryl Strawberry, who won the World Series as a player with both the New York Mets (1986) and New York Yankees (1996, 1998, 1999), will visit Saugerties High School on June 8. He will discuss how he overcame addiction and found his true purpose in helping people with their struggles.
The Strawberry visit is sponsored by R.Y.A.N. (Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics), an organization founded by the family of Ryan Kelder, who died of a heroin overdose in August 2015. Ryan’s mother, Carole Kelder, is the principal at Mt. Marion Elementary School.
Carole Kelder said a similar event last year was a rousing success. “Last year R.Y.A.N. raised enough money to bring Chris Herren, former NBA Celtic, for an assembly for Saugerties High School students in grades 9 through 12, followed by an evening event at Kingston High School that drew almost 2000 community members from throughout Ulster County to hear Chris’s inspiring story,” said Kelder. “Chris shared his descent into addiction followed by his miraculous recovery, celebrating almost ten years clean.”
Kelder reported that the response to Herren’s inspiring story had been overwhelming. “Last year’s event changed the lives of so many,” Kelder said. “About five or six weeks after Chris came and spoke, one person wrote to us to let us know that hearing Chris’s story saved him.”
Kelder said she expects the community to respond similarly to Strawberry’s visit, which will include a presentation by the baseball star, followed by an interview with two Saugerties High students.
“Darryl will be discussing his battle with childhood abuse, anxiety, and drug and alcohol addiction,” Kelder said. “He will discuss how effects of low self-esteem, self-worth, bullying, and emotional pain can lead someone to drugs or alcohol. He will share his hard truths about his journey into addiction, and also his inspiring, hopeful message that recovery is possible.”
In a press release, Strawberry talked about how he came to dedicate his life to helping people get through the same struggles he’s faced. “I have a heart for people, especially those who are faced with conditions, situations, or battles in their lives that often bring a deep sense of hopelessness to the soul,” said the release. “As many people know, much of my life has been filled with the battles that have left me without hope. However, that is not the case today. Today I have hope!”
Kelder said the Strawberry event was very much in line with what R.Y.A.N. is trying to achieve in Saugerties and beyond. “It is a privilege that I get to work with children every day,” she said. “I see how our students are affected by the disease of addiction, depression, anxiety, as well as many other things. I feel that as an educator it is my obligation to do the best job that I can to educate children and their parents, empowering them with knowledge so that they can make good decisions for themselves, help a friend, or even know where to find important resources.”
Funding for R.Y.A.N. events is primarily through their annual 5k run, scheduled this year for Sunday, October 21 at Kingston’s Loughran Park. Prevention education programs are organized in partnership with other community groups.
“There are also many free resources at the disposal of the community, we just need to find them and take advantage of them,” said Kelder. “R.Y.A.N. heard about a program through the Ulster Prevention Council (UPC) called Too Good for Drugs. The evidenced based program is more than about drugs, it teaches students to form healthy relationships, to be confident, and to make good choices.”
More recently, R.Y.A.N. helped coordinate an assembly for fifth and sixth graders at Mt. Marion Elementary led by New York State trooper Craig Vedder and R.Y.A.N.’s school and community outreach coordinator, Randi Kelder. Both talked about the risks and rewards of social media.
“Opioid addiction is a national crisis,” said Carole Kelder. “We are losing an entire generation at the rate of 179 people a day to this epidemic. Many give up thinking that they can never escape the grip of addiction. I know that my son Ryan was afraid that he would have to live the rest of his life fighting this demon. He lost hope, and struggled understanding his life’s purpose. I think that the important message that our community needs to hear is that recovery is possible …. Darryl’s story can change the way a person feels about themselves, giving them a sense of purpose and hope again.”
The Darryl Strawberry event at Saugerties High on Friday, June 8 at 6:30 p.m. is free and open to the public. A limited number of tickets are available in advance for reserved seating. Those without tickets will be seated on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors will open at 6 p.m., and those without tickets are encouraged to arrive early. To reserve tickets, email RYANSrun5K@outlook.com or visit Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics on Facebook.
“I think that each person will take away something different from Mr. Strawberry,” said Kelder. “I think that kids look to our professional athletes, actors and musicians as role models .… Our hope is that we can open the eyes of as many kids and adults as we can.”