NewsLocal News


'It's a lifelong disease. It doesn't go away': Community leaders highlighting men's mental health at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute

"Reach out to the young folks who are susceptible."
St. Joe's to Host Inaugural John R. Paslaqua '10 Memorial Awareness Day.jpg
Posted at 6:22 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 19:48:21-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Saint Joseph's Collegiate Institute took a unique approach to helping educate their boys, as part of Men's Health Awareness Month.

School leaders are hoping this event will help address different challenges that young men face.

"I've been in education for almost 25 years. I've never seen a more difficult time for a young man to be an adolescent, and there are so many challenges that our students are facing," St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute president, Christopher Fulco said.

Saint Joseph Collegiate Institute hosted a series of seminars to address different challenges young men face, Thursday morning.

St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute student, Louis Cannata said, "It was really eye-opening to me to realize that there are kids my age and older, but not that much older that have these issues with prescribed drugs that have to go through these dark times alone and feel that there's really no help and no one to reach out to."

A total of four guest speakers for each grade level, discussed topics on substance abuse, alcohol abuse, hazing and social media safety.

St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute social worker, Rachel Zimmer said, "There are things that I see happening and increasing, especially this school year with our students. So, I think it was so important for them to gain more knowledge something other than just solely focusing on academics."

"I took away from this just that really anybody can have these problems and it's not the person's fault. It's just a very trying time, and it's hard for a person to really overcome these things. With organizations like "Save the Michaels" they make it easier for kids like me and students all across Western New York to have an easier time with problems like this," Cannata said.

For founders of Save the Michaels of the World, Inc., Avi and Julie Israel, this day of awareness is an emotional one as their son Michael Israel attended St. Joseph's. He died in 2011 after dying by suicide, following his battle from painkiller addiction.

Separated by grade level, each class had a guest speaker geared to their age.

● Freshmen: Horizon Health presentation on drugs, vaping, and alcohol use.
● Sophomores: Buffalo FBI's cybersecurity division presentation about online presence and social
● Juniors: The Israels, parents of Michael '08 and founders of "Save the Michaels" will speak about
opioid use and suicide prevention.
● Seniors: Screening of the short film, "Breathe, Nolan, Breathe," followed by conversation with the
Burch family on hazing and the role of bystanders.

"Our son suffered from Crohn's Disease and had to have some surgery, and when that happened, he was prescribed painkillers and that lead to his addiction. Ten, eleven years ago, it was not a subject that a lot of people talked about. After Michael passed away, we wanted to raise awareness," Avi and Julie Israel said. "We want people to start talking about addiction so the best way for was us to do it for us to reach out to the young folks who are susceptible to this and let them know that once you get hooked, it's a lifelong disease. It doesn't go away."

This is the first event of its kind at the Catholic, college prep school but one that school leaders and organizers hope will become a staple of the school's future programming.

This new, annual event is named after John Paslaqua of the Class of 2010, who passed away tragically in 2017," according to St. Joseph's. The Paslaqua family has established this event to bring light to serious subjects that impact the lives of high school students while honoring their son.

Help is always available if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues.

For Erie County's health crisis service, call crisis services (716) 834-3131 or in Niagara County's health crisis service at (716) 285-3515.