Hundreds Gather Downtown for Overdose Awareness Vigil

More than 600 people gathered at the Pop Up Park downtown Thursday night to honor those who have died from accidental drug overdoses as well as those struggling with addiction.

Those attending the New Canaan Parent Support Group and New Canaan Community Foundation’s vigil on National Overdose Awareness Day heard emotional, heartfelt stories shared by four individuals—two from those in recovery from addiction and two from parents who had a child succumb to the disease.

One of those parents was Paul Reinhardt, founder of the New Canaan Parent Support Group, whose son Evan, a graduate of New Canaan High School in 2009, passed away due to a drug overdose in July 2015.

“Evan was a true jokester,” Reinhardt told the crowd on a clear, cool night. “He was always out to have fun and amuse those around him to make them happy—always thinking about the other guy. He was my ‘Evan from Heaven’. Evan suffered in silence with anxiety disorder for a long time—a disease over 40 million Americans have. In high school he was exposed to both alcohol and pot, and those drugs provided him the relief he needed, on a short-term basis, from his anxiety. And by having anxiety and other diseases like it, you’re susceptible to becoming addicted … In April 2015, I’m sitting with my son in a 12-step meeting in New Haven, Conn. and I’m really proud of him. I am so because that night he graduated from all three phases of the program and received his one-year [sober] coin—365 days of recovery and sobriety. I was proud. My wife was proud. We were so happy for him. But within three months, all of it changed. Evan cut off, or frayed, all of his connections from the program. And he was back inside of his own head, suffering in silence. But even though that led to his passing, I’m not going to choose to remember him for that. I’m going to choose to remember that day when he was given his one-year coin. Because then his future was very bright and he had a lot going for him.”

One of the individuals who shared their story of recovery was Kera Townshend. Townshend, also a 2009 graduate of New Canaan High School, recalled moments as far back as when she was 15 years old when she would tell herself to stop drinking. Admittedly, her willpower alone was not enough as the next eight years consisted of several moments where she would utter the exact same message.

Today, Townshend celebrates 3.5 years of sobriety. And an event like this vigil makes her believe that more of those in recovery can emulate the path she has forged.

“I think it’s amazing that people now have the resources available to help them with their recovery journey,” Townshend told NewCanaanite.com. “And it’s so important that we’re acknowledging the struggle that addiction is and not hiding behind closed doors about it. By bringing light to all of this, shame cannot exist. Tonight’s so validating in the sense that we’re able to see everyone’s coming together in support. To have been able to meet the wonderful people we lost to this disease—each of whom had such a terrific impact on my life—and their families as well, this all means the world to me. I believe the future is bright for our town with regards to helping those in recovery.”

The event also featured a “Hope & Remembrance” banner that allowed attendees to share both photos of, and messages to, those who were in their hearts on this evening. And several tables of pamphlets and posters with information about addiction and paths to recovery were also made available for attendees to learn more about the dreadful disease.

The emcee for the evening was John Hamilton, chief clinical outreach officer and licensed alcohol drug abuse counselor for Mountainside Treatment Center in Wilton, who has 30 years of experience in the field of addiction and mental health issues. With that experience, Hamilton knows just how significant an event like this is.

“In the last five years, 165 out of 169 towns in Connecticut have lost a loved one due to opioid addiction. So tonight’s turnout gives hope. ot just to those who organized it but many more as well.  Many people here tonight are those who are in recovery and they recognize how much effort it took them to ask for help and to see this amount of people come out for them and support them is wonderful. Tonight offers living examples of people who were able to get the help they deserve and how they also can help others do the same. What’s so powerful is the support group of those who have lost loved ones, who were the impetus of making a difference in others’ lives so they don’t lose loved ones as well. So [tonight’s] a tremendous opportunity to bring everyone together to see that together we can heal.”

The evening concluded with a candlelight vigil, led by clergy and leaders of 15 local faiths as those in attendance prayed in unison for both those they have lost and those who are in their recovery efforts.

One thought on “Hundreds Gather Downtown for Overdose Awareness Vigil

  1. An evening that brought out the very best of New Canaan! Congratulations and Thank You to Paul Reinhardt, the New Canaan Parent Support Group and the New Canaan Community Foundation for organizing this event. The incredible crowd that gathered heard heartfelt and meaningful messages, became better informed on the issues surrounding substance abuse and addiction, and helped to honor those we have lost and those who continue to suffer with afflictions of these diseases.

    The greatest gift from last night is the knowledge and freedom to openly talk about these issues. There is a wide range of help available and there are hundreds of friends and neighbors willing to listen and help. As a community moving forward, our greatest challenge is to keep this conversation going! Together, we can each make a difference.

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