North Adams' Recovery Rally Focusing on Family, Hope
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — This year's 4th annual Voices for Recovery Rally will have time for tears, and smiles.
Kenna Waterman, founder of Josh Bressette Commit to Save A Life, said the rally at Noel Field Athletic Complex on Saturday will have again have a wall of remembrances, grown from nine names last year to about 30 — so far.
"It's a very emotional thing for me creating the wall," she said on Tuesday. "I get to know the stories, I get to know their families."
But it will also have another list of names: those who are in recovery from substance abuse. It will be about the same number but displayed with much more hope.
"It's very important to see recovery does happen and here's your proof," Waterman said.
That's the goal of the now annual event — to provide names and faces to the challenges of substance abuse. To gather families and community together to understand a disease that proliferated throughout the region and the nation.
"I do think the work that's been done in Northern Berkshire County here for the last couple of years is really starting to beat down the stigma issue," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "There's really been a different acceptance of things that should be accepted anyway. I think there's a different level of that.
"[Addiction] is a very lonely illness .... and [this event] is very family-centric and I think families need to validate their experience."
Grown from a walk and vigil based on a national event, this annual rally will include both those things but also provide space for information booths, speakers, music, food vendors and children's activities. The theme is "Our Families, Our Stories, Our Recovery" to acknowledge "that we all have a story to tell and a role to play to support recovery."
The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. at the walking track. The mayor will lead a walk through downtown North Adams beginning at 2 p.m.; walkers will pause for a standout at the intersection of Main Street and Route 8 by City Hall.
"This event is really all about bringing people in the community together to learn about the resources that we do have to understand and build our skills to advocate for the resources that we still need," said Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. "To feel a sense of community and feeling visible and understood around the tremendous challenges that the disease of addiction poses."
Local advocates have been working for nearly four years on outreach and resources. Penner, for instance, is also a member fo the opioid working group that meets monthly on local solutions. Waterman founded her all-volunteer group in memory of her late son.
"What we're working for is the decreases in the number of overdose deaths," Penner said, citing the mayor's push for providing overdose-reverser naloxone (Narcan) to first-responders, the expansion of the Brien Center's substance abuse day center at Berkshire Medical Center's North Adams campus, and the development of a needle exchange by Tapestry Health.
"We've seen the methadone clinic go from being a brand-new enterprise a year ago to now serving over 220 people a weekly," she said. Still, there is a need for sober housing, to make Waterman's organization, which provides support to recovering addicts and families, sustainable and promoting prevention to youngsters.
Part of that effort is making addiction more visible. Saturday's event will include the premiere after the walk of a locally produced video featuring people speaking about their experiences, and including Waterman and the mayor. Rather than the more graphic videos exploring substance abuse, this one will focus more in-depth on experiences, and the challenges and opportunities to recovery.
"It's the community seeing that number of people who are willing to be visible and come out and say recovery is really important, addiction is really touching me and my life and to really combat that stigma," Penner said of the rally and walk, who added it was Waterman who worked on creating the family aspect to the event.
Participating Saturday are Learn to Cope, Spectrum Health, Berkshire Health Systems, the Brien Center, Tapestry Health, the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative, Narcotics Anonymous, and Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life. In addition, representatives from the state Department of Public Health and the office of the attorney general will attend.
Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director for the Brien Center, will talk about addiction and stigma and the keynote speaker Andrew McKenna will discuss his experiences rising through military to become a Justice Department prosecutor then falling into addiction and bank robbery. The vigil ending the rally will include the Rev. David Anderson of First Baptist Church, Amalio Jusino of the North Adams Ambulance Service, person in recovery and a family member touched by loss.
Alcombright hoped that this vigil will become a celebration in the way that Relay for Life has become for cancer: A chance to mourn losses but also a hopeful event to honor the survivors.
"They celebrate the fact that people have survived, and they celebrate and they honor those folks who have succumbed," he said. "There is a vigil and a time for tears, but there also is a time for smiles."
Tags: addiction recovery, benefit walk, community event, drug abuse, drug awareness, rally, substance abuse, vigil,