“Hold. Hold on. Hold on to me. ‘Cause I’m a little unsteady. A little unsteady.”
Recent Hampton Bays graduate Keeley Lennon would start all of the health class sessions of her anti-drug addiction program “Addiction Is A Disease! Stop the Stigma!” with the song “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors. For Lennon, the program is therapeutic; the song, aligning with her theme. The experience of losing her father, Dan Lennon, a former Hampton Bays High School art teacher and lifeguard, to a February 2018 overdose, is what spurred her to help others.
Lennon’s primary objective was to let any classmate who is or knows someone dealing with addiction, to understand he or she is not alone, and that there’s help. Lennon was motivated by the hope that at least one person could be saved by her efforts. She thought, if she could do that, she’d be happy.
“Presenting to my first health class was very intimidating because I would be telling my life story to a bunch of kids who I didn’t really know,” Lennon said. But, she added, “I knew that I was doing this for a good reason. Addiction truly is a disease, and it’s not something to joke about.”
Lennon’s efforts have been recognized and amplified. Besides receiving the Suffolk County PAL Youth Citizenship and Youth Achievement awards, she was recently honored by the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island with its Steward of Social Justice award, and received a proclamation from Southampton Town November 12. She will also be recognized by Legislator Bridget Fleming November 26.
“I think we all, in our lives, go through difficult times we need to overcome, and how we do that speaks to our resiliency,” Health & Welfare Council of Long Island president and CEO Rebecca Sanin said. “But when someone’s struggle becomes an opportunity to catalyze community engagement and to serve others, that is a very unique and special moment in a person’s life and something that needs to be recognized.”
Sanin said choosing the honorees — Lennon, along with Half Hollow Hills West’s recent graduate Peyton Hall — to be spotlighted during the organization’s third annual Halloween Ball at The Mansion at Oyster Bay, was a competitive process. The over 70-year-old nonprofit she heads serves the interests of poor and vulnerable people on Long Island by convening, representing, and supporting the organizations that serve them. Sanin said supporting students who aid in those efforts is also critical.
“Children are often recognized for their academic or athletic accomplishments, but when a student takes personal pain and turns it into action to make sure nobody else suffers, that is leadership,” Sanin said. “We’re so proud of Keeley’s leadership. The town and community nurtured an extraordinary Southampton Town resident.”
Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, who said Lennon was one of her cheerleaders when she was a PAL co-chair, beamed with immense pride over what her fellow hamlet resident has accomplished. Lennon was a manager of her varsity cheerleading team through high school. She competed until a knee surgery ended her career freshman year.
“To see her go through the struggles she went through and come out doing something like this I think is really awesome,” Lofstad said. “And good for Rebecca to see that and recognize that.”
Superintendent Jay Schneiderman told Lennon at the November 12 board meeting when he handed over her proclamation to keep up the good work she’s doing, because she’s making a difference. Councilman John Bouvier said everyone speaks so highly of her.
“What you’ve gone through — I just can’t imagine. I think a lot of people can’t,” Bouvier said to Lennon during the meeting. “How you take that and turn it into something positive for others is really great.”
Lennon was able to find closure and cope with her father’s struggles through music, sharing her story, and knowing she was helping others. Talking to students about her journey started in the winter of 2018, presenting during her high school’s health classes.
Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemensen, who nominated Lennon for the Health & Welfare Council award, said he’s grateful the nonprofit recognized his alumna.
“She is a remarkable young woman who has taken a very challenging set of circumstances and used them, and her voice, to make change in our communities,” he said. “She has, and will continue to have, a tremendous impact for good.”
Jake Davidson, a Hampton Bays High School physical education and health teacher, said he’s also proud of Lennon and the effects she’s had.
“She developed a presentation for high school students that really affected them, mostly because she was willing to be vulnerable and share her own story with her peers,” he said. “Now, she will be speaking to our middle school students, and I know she will continue to change lives with her hard work and dedication.”
Lennon said she decided to share her story with younger kids after hearing about some of them being caught vaping, doing drugs, and even drinking.
“I want give them a different perspective and give them real-life examples of what can happen if they continue this behavior,” she said. “If they hear this at age 12, 13, 14 and they realize the scary truth of it all, they might, hopefully, stop and get better.”
Lennon is currently a freshman at Suffolk County Community College majoring in adolescent education in biology and minoring in addiction studies.
“I want to learn more about how addiction works and where it starts — on a different level than what I know now,” Lennon said. “I’m grateful every time I’m recognized because, with that, others become aware of what I’m doing and how addiction is a big problem in the United States. And that itself needs as much acknowledgement as it can get. I will continue the work I’m doing. Hopefully, for a long time.”