What began as a coffee break conversation between two policemen has bloomed into a new partnership project between North Bergen Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 18 and The Hudson County School of Technology. Much like other drug abuse awareness programs, Bugs Against Drugs (BAD) reaches out to students. The difference is that teens learn teamwork by working together to restore classic vehicles.
Once the current project, a Volkswagen Beetle, has been completed, it will be used as a symbol for BAD at town events and car shows to draw awareness to the program and its message. Automotive mechanics students from the school have affectionately named their new project Herby The Bug or Herby The Beetle.
BAD has brought the anti-drug message to the older generation of teens, whom PBA 18 President Jeffrey Gennari and Treasurer Constantinos (Dino) Apostolakos hoped to reach.
It all began with a Craigslist ad for a Volkswagen that led to a road trip to southern Philadelphia, Pa. to purchase the pilot vehicle, which has no interior.
Apostolakos said he and Gennari both own Volkswagens and are fans of the classic car.
“We love all cars, we love anything automotive, but our passion is really old Volkswagens.” – Dino Apostolakos
They said the vehicle was selected due to its universal appeal and strong connection to the heritage of people that make up Hudson County, along with the availability of parts and supplies.
Rarin’ to go
The mechanical skills of the juniors and seniors will be put to the test. The program is intended to give students a goal that appeals to them, and also to reinforce the development of their skills. A total of 21 students, 16 juniors and five seniors, are working under the guidance of Instructor Sergio Gamarra.
“They love it [the Volkswagen]. They can’t wait to get their hands dirty,” said Gamarra, an alumnus who has been teaching at Hudson County School of Technology for two years. “They’ve been bugging me to start tearing it down.”
Not to be confused with the DARE program, BAD has similar but distinctive qualities. BAD promotes a positive anti-substance abuse lifestyle by emphasizing teamwork and practical skills vital for the student’s future. Older teens are less responsive to DARE, and that’s what sparked the idea for BAD, to reach out to youth with the positive drug message while being involved with a restoration project.
“There’s too many negative influences, especially at this age, so this gives them something positive to do,” said Apostolakos. He said the acronym is one that teens feel comfortable using.
Students took the initiative as they split up into teams. The individual abilities BAD is intended to achieve include project management; skill development; networking and communicating with local vendors for parts and services; team building; pride in the mechanic’s trade; showcasing their skills and promoting themselves, their school and their trade once the pilot vehicle has been completed, and establishing a positive work relationship with the North Bergen Police Department.
The future for BAD
The project may be completed by May with the help of local vendors who have donated parts, services and materials. The local businesses are Union Auto Parts, 1525 Kennedy Blvd., North Bergen; America Collision, 1405 Kennedy Blvd., North Bergen; P&A Auto Parts, with multiple locations in New Jersey, and J&R Auto Body, 6208 Kennedy Blvd., West New York. Sponsors will paint and set up the upholstery of the vehicle.
Upon its completion, a photo story will be constructed about the progression of BAD, including biographies of students involved and information about supporting businesses. The students who take part in the project will be invited to events where the pilot vehicle will be displayed. Some of the events could be car shows, street festivals, community events such as Night Out Against Crime, Winterfest and other large events.
In addition to PBA Local 18, BAD is supported by the North Bergen Police Department, the Township of North Bergen, Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Commissioner Frank Gargiulo, Police Chief Robert Dowd, Former Chief William Galvin, Board Secretary Richard Myrlak, and the Hudson County Schools of Technology Board.
You can help
BAD is a not-for-profit organization and can receive donations to fund the program. Proceeds will support the class of the following year’s project, and some donations will be distributed to a charity that Local 18 chooses every year. The remaining funds will go towards the future community projects of the PBA Local 18.
Custom t-shirts, hats and decals will be provided to students to be sold for purchasing auto parts.
If you would like to donate, contact: Bugs Against Drugs, c/o North Bergen PBA 18,
P.O. Box 201, North Bergen, NJ 07047, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gennari would like to have several schools participate with BAD and eventually have each school compete with one another’s work.
“It’s something new…it’ll definitely catch the interest of others,” said Samantha Guzman, one of the students on the project.
BAD’s website is: www.bugsagainstdrugs.net.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at email@example.com