Portsmouth’s Donnie Evans is a counselor for an addiction rehabilitation facility in Ironton. He also was one of hundreds of people who gathered just outside Spartan Stadium on Friday for the first of two planned rallies staged by the Northeast Ohio organization known as Hope Over Heroin.
For his part, Evans loved the idea of the rally, talking about a sort of underground community formed by addicts, recovering addicts and their family and friends.
“They rely on each other for support,” Evans said. “Anytime they can come together like this in a positive atmosphere, is good.”
One of the key features of the Hope Over Heroin event was dubbed the City of Resources and was exactly what you might think it was: booths and tents set up by various local private and public drug rehabilitation agencies offering plenty of information on their services and, of course, an open invitation to those who need the help to take advantage of those services.
Evans’ wife Criston also is involved with drug counseling, working for the Portsmouth City Health Department. She said you can’t assume all the persons in Friday’s crowd were recovering addicts and may indeed be persons who need to seek out help with recovery. She asserted the event offered exactly what it advertised: hope and the means to recovery for those addicted.
“You don’t get that every day,” Criston Evans said.
The sense of community Donnie Evans talked about was on display all around the outskirts of the stadium. Many persons were dressed similarly. Tattoos and cigarettes were common. Lots of people seemed to know each other, sharing long handshakes, high-fives and hugs.
“We’re here to reach this community, to let them know what the resources are,” said Rosalie Canfield, director of Hope over Heroin. She also noted her group is nondenominational but faith-based.
“One of our goals is no doubt to share the Gospel,” Canfield said and a religious message
permeated the evening, one repeated assertion being recovery is only possible – or at least a lot more likely – with faith.
The evening started with a march of participants out from the stadium grounds. Many carried red balloons meant to symbolize persons lost to addiction. When the marchers returned to the stadium grounds, organizers called for a moment of silent prayer after which the balloons were released.
“Lord , we remember those lost ones who have gone on to be with you,” Hope Over Heroin’s Roch Olberding told the crowd prior to the balloon release.
In addition to live music, entertainment for the evening included a motorcycle stunt group known as Ride 4 Life.
“I was scheduled to be one of those red balloons,” said Ride 4 Life founder and recovering addict Scott Carabodad roared to the audience. “This world needs to wake up and come together to support those who want to live.”
In addition to the balloon release memorializing persons lost to addiction, persons in the crowd were invited to write the names of those lost on a large display set up near the event stage.
One woman, who gave her name only as Megan F, said she is not an addict but was there to remember an uncle she lost to drugs when he was in his late forties. Megan added the death occurred three years ago but said “the pain of it is still fresh.”
Dominic Lewis works for a restaurant chain with a couple of local locations. He said his boss goes out his way to hire recovering addicts and several are doing well. However, Lewis somewhat predictably adds a few have succumbed to their problems. He was in the crowd Friday, he said, to show support for those struggling with addiction.
Friday’s total attendance was not readily available. The event continued Saturday night, presumably complete with a video memorialization of persons lost which was scrapped Friday night because of technical problems. Hope over Heroin’s Canfield said she expected about 2,500 attendees before the weekend wrapped up. Canfield named several other locations in Ohio where Hope Over Heroin will head next. They most recently returned from a Native American reservation in South Dakota.
Hope Over Heroin began in Cincinnati, the vision of three pastors who Canfield said were inspired to act after presiding over the funerals of 14 addicts in one week. Some 10,000 people attended the first event three years ago.
“The idea is to bring hope and faith,” Olberding said at one point.