The Bordentown community came together this month with a mission to raise awareness about drug addiction.
The Bordentown Young Professionals Rotary held a “Rotary 4 Recovery Walk” event on Nov. 7, which invited patrons to come out and support family, friends and community members in an effort to raise awareness about drug addiction and to break the stigma of discussion about addiction.
The event was held at the Carslake Community Center where Bordentown officials from the city and township gathered with locals who wore purple glow necklaces with candles in hand and stickers attached to their clothes stating, “I walk for.”
Following several speeches at the Carslake Community Center gymnasium, the attendees took to the streets on a rainy night as they traversed along Crosswicks Street in Bordentown City for a candle-lit processional walk in honor of those who have been affected by addiction.
The Bordentown Young Professionals Rotary organized the event, which featured speeches from Bordentown City Mayor James Lynch and a Burlington County local, Thaddeus Richards, who lost his friend in 2018 to addiction.
Co-chairperson of the Young Professionals Rotary Hillary Moore joined the group last year and said she felt something had to be done to address the persistent issue of addiction in local communities. Moore said she wanted to organize an event to show victims of addiction and their families that they aren’t alone in their struggle.
For this year’s event, Moore said she wanted to make even more outreach efforts by inviting groups and resources available to attendees who might be affected directly or indirectly by addiction. Moore explained that in addition to organizing an event where various resources would be available in an aim to assist locals, it was also meant to serve as a way to bring people together for an important cause.
“It’s about acknowledging that there is a community,” Moore said. “A lot of people are part of the Bordentown City and Bordentown Township community, but we haven’t known that we are a part of this community as well. It’s a different kind of community where people are talking about addiction and the stigma of addiction – to start breaking it.
“Building this community is what’s exciting about this . You are meeting people you may have never talked to before and realize you all have something in common and are working towards a common goal,” Moore added.
The Rotary Club member explained that opioid addiction is a current, ongoing issue in the country. Moore said she felt that efforts should be made at a local level to address this nationwide matter with an intent to encourage discussion about addiction as well as stymie its potential risks.
“The issue of addiction is getting worse and the stigma is not changing,” Moore said. “As addiction and the opioid epidemic continues to progress, there’s still not enough people talking about it as there should be, so there’s nothing happening to change it or improve the situation. Until we start acknowledging that there is a problem, we are not going to be able to fix it.”
Among the attendees who had been affected by addiction included Bordentown Township residents who said they lost a relative to addiction, too. Shelby Stillwell said she was walking in memory of her relative, Robbie Slabicki, who passed away at 42-years-old in 2015 and battled with addiction.
“We lost a loved one from suicide due to addiction,” Stillwell said. “So, we are walking in memory of him.”
During the November event, Lynch took to the podium in the gymnasium to discuss the municipality’s efforts to address drug and substance abuse as well as announced the city’s stance on treating those affected by addiction.
“All of you here tonight are on the front lines of this stigma we have now with addiction and recovery. We have all been affected by it,” Lynch said. “We have to come out and try to help people, and to not be afraid of something that happened to a family member or be ashamed of. You can’t be ashamed of them. You have to be working with it and work through it.”
After Lynch’s address, 26-year-old area local, Thaddeus Richards, spoke to the event attendees to share his story about how he was affected by addiction. Richards said that he befriended another local male, James “Boomer” Walton, when he was 8-years-old. He explained that after many years of friendship with Walton, he passed away last year on Aug. 12 at 26-years-old following an eight-year struggle with addiction.
“Since that day, I have thought a lot about him and that situation, and everything that goes into addiction,” Richards said. “But every time I’m given the opportunity to speak publicly about it, it’s something that I don’t think I’m necessarily prepared for. I don’t write anything down because I feel like it’s more beneficial to people to understand when I speak, genuinely, from my heart.
“I know that I don’t necessarily understand the inner workings of addiction to really give profound advice on it, but I do know enough to know that I am human, and what I know is that empathy is all that matters,” Richards added.
In addition to his speech, Richards explained that events like this can also serve as a potential way to bring the persistent issue of addiction forth to a town and help address it.
“It’s important for people to put a face to the story and see the addiction crisis going on right now,” he said. “It exposes community members to the problems that we are facing right now. Any opportunity to shed light and share a story on that is important to the community.”