WESTFIELD — With prayers, singing, lit candles and quiet reflection, Westfield residents filled Park Square Green to remember loved ones lost to substance abuse at the International Overdose Awareness Vigil on Aug. 31. Shoes symbolizing the lives lost edged the walkways, and people from organizations that can help offered hope and information on their programs.
State Sen. John Velis spoke about his first weeks in office as a state representative, when Westfield lost a few young people to overdoses, and a family member went to see him. He said there’s still a stigma around substance use.
“A doctor told me that a lot of people recover, if we can just keep them alive,” he said, adding, “The well-being of our citizens far and away is the most important thing we do.”
Jennifer Thielen, who introduced herself as a “grateful recovered alcoholic and addict,” spoke about her journey, and how it took several tries for her to recover. She said it was like a dentist putting a crown on a tooth without fixing the tooth first.
“I knew what was needed for substantial recovery. … Like my life depended on it, because we know it does,” she said.
She said when she was still in addiction, she found friends who thought like she did. “They’re on that wall,” she said, referring to the Wall of Hope on display at the vigil, where people write messages and hang photos of loved ones who are gone. “I got that x-ray. I got that root canal. We can’t do it by ourselves,” Thielen said.
“This is the best turnout we’ve had. It’s great that so many people are here tonight,” said Jessica Bekech of the Facebook group Westfield Against Addiction. Bekech said the group, which was founded about six years ago, posts free resources and open beds for treatment. “We help as much as we can,” she said.
At another table, Abdul Basden, Amanda Harvey and Cassandra Valcourt of the Valor Recovery Center in Springfield gave out information on the community center and the programs they offer.
“We’re a peer-based recovery center. Every staff member is a person in recovery,” Valcourt said.
Other resource tables at the vigil were from Tapestry, the DART (Drug Addiction Recovery Team), CORE (Coalition for Outreach, Recovery and Education), Learn 2 Cope, Fun and Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous, Dear Addict Carlyrae Photo, Genesis Spiritual Center, MA Team Sharing, Peer to Peer Grief Support Group, SADOD.org grief support, Mental Health Associates (MHA), the Behavioral Health Network (BHN) and the Southern Hilltown Domestic Violence Task Force.
Music during the vigil was provided by the One Hope Band from the Evangelical Free Church. The Rev. Barbara Hesse, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Westfield, gave an invocation and a closing prayer as candles were lit for loved ones.
Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr., who was there with his family on crutches from a broken foot, welcomed residents at the beginning, and CORE Coordinator Kathi Cotugno ended the program with her reflections.
Cotugno thanked Ed Garbowski and his band One Hope, the Westfield Senior Center for tables, the Evangelical Free Church for chairs and the moms from Team Sharing.
For more information on CORE of Greater Westfield and their programs, contact Cotugno at 413-642-9322, or by email at [email protected]