BY PATRICIA KELLER WEST MILFORD- The West Milford Township Public School District, in conjunction with West Milford Community Against Substance Abuse, and the West Milford Police Department, held its annual “S.A.F.E. Night” event at the high school on Tuesday. Parents attending the event gave positive reviews and thanks to the district in person and on social media platforms, stating that the event was “extremely informative”, “a valuable resource for information for parents and students alike”, and presented in a manner that was both serious and entertaining- which served to keep the attention of attendees focused on the important issues.Coordinated by Director of Education Dan Novak and the district's S.A.F.E.™ Night Committee, the “Substance Abuse Family Empowerment Night” program is geared toward parents and students in grades 5-8, which studies have shown is a key age of development for social, emotional, and cognitive/decision making skills. The goal of the program is to provide parents with valuable information regarding substance abuse prevention, current societal trends, and availableschool and community resources for assistance; as well as to educate the youth of the community about the dangers of substance abuse, discourage use of substances, encourage better decision making, surround themselves with positive peer groups, and learning alternatives for social bonding activities- achieving a “natural high” and stress relief through participation in school-based extracurricular clubs, sports, and other community-based activities, spending quality time with family and friends, making positive social connections, and learning about the positive natural brain chemical effects of love, laughter, activity, and meditation. Students and parents learned about the significant, detrimental effects that outside chemicals and substances such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco/vape products have on the developing adolescent and young adult brains.According to the presenters, the scientific evidence shows an increased likelihood of addiction with younger ages exposed to such substances.Speakers also discussed how to have meaningful family discussions via guided questions addressing the many consequences that arise as a result of substance abuse.Students also learned that they didn't need to use outside substances to fit in, to feel good, or to self-medicate for mental health issues, which can all be achieved and addressed through positive, natural connections, and school and community resources, that are available to them.West Milford Public Schools Counseling, Nursing, and Health Services, West Milford C.A.S.A, West Milford Police Department, West Milford Youth Leadership groups “Peers As Leaders” (PALS) and “Heroes and Cool Kids”, and Keynote Speaker, Matt Bellace- Author of "A Better High" and founder of the Calvin & Hobbes House (mattbellace.com), were the key community and school based organizations and presenters involved in the evening.