By Joe Severino, RealWV,
Greenbrier County Overdose Awareness Day 2023 will be held next Saturday, Aug. 26, to remember people who have died due to substance abuse, grieve with loved ones and celebrate those in recovery.
The event will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a sunset vigil taking place later in the evening. It will be at the Roadside Park at Charmco. Local businesses and resource organizations will set up in the park as vendors throughout the day, and activities will be available for children. People will also be sharing personal stories of addiction, overdoses, and recovery.
Tayler Hiser is an organizer of the event, and works as a peer recovery support specialist for Valley Works Resource Center – a community resource nonprofit based in Rainelle. While the day is meant to educate about overdoses and addiction, Hiser said she hopes people can also focus on the positives of recovery.
Valley Works helps community members with re-employment and economic services, Hiser said, and provides resources to those fighting substance abuse. Hiser, 27, said that all of Valley Works’ employees are either in long-term recovery, or come from backgrounds of trauma. Having used drugs, and growing up with family in active addiction, Hiser said many people in active addiction can trust her and Valley Works employees, and look to them for support without stigma or negativity.
“I was raised up in it, so it’s kind of just always been my life,” Hiser said. “It gives me a foundation with a lot of people. If I didn’t use with them myself, my family did.”
Hiser, a Greenbrier County native, lost her mother to a fatal overdose, and will honor her next weekend.
“This event touches my heart,” she said.
At sunset, friends and family members will place luminaries on the ground to represent a person they’ve lost to a drug overdose. Hiser said they have already purchased more than 400 candles. At a recent recovery event with about 50 people in attendance, Hiser said attendees wrote down the names of more than 150 people they knew off the top of their heads who had died of fatal drug overdoses in Southeastern West Virginia. Hiser said she knows of eight people living between Meadow Bridge and Rupert who have died in the last month due to an overdose.
“That probably doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Hiser said, expecting an unfortunately large turnout for the vigil. “I think it’ll be a very moving testament to the amount of loss that we’ve all experienced by being able to see all those lights.”
The event will be educational to young people as well, Hiser said. Parents and guardians talking to their children about drugs is always uncomfortable, but having honest conversations early in life is the best way to help them, she said.
“People want to protect their children from the influences of drugs and alcohol, but if we don’t inform the youth about the dangers of substances – and not only the drugs, but addiction and the lifestyle – then we’re not doing a bit of good,” Hiser said.
“We’re not going to be able to make a full change unless we start people young,” she added, “because working with youth is obviously extremely important in the recovery community.”
A father-son team will be one of the event’s featured vendors. Gary Brooks, who is a resident in recovery at God’s Way Home sober living facility, operates Rockin’ Rolled Ice Cream with his son, Hiser said. She pointed to their recent success as a sign of the good that recovery can bring, and the potential that those living with addiction can still have.
There has been growing acceptance of drug use and addiction in recent years throughout West Virginia, but Hiser said those in their community still face the stigma every day.
This will be the first county-level overdose awareness event it’s held, but Hiser said Valley Works plans to turn this into an annual event. Hiser said organizers were inspired to localize the issue in light of International Overdose Awareness Day, which is held annually on Aug. 31.
Those with questions about the event, or are interested in setting up as a vendor, are asked to contact Hiser at 304-992-9840, or firstname.lastname@example.org; or contact organizer Melissa Thornton at 304-661-3463, or email@example.com.
Here is the current list of vendors, resources and organizers:
● Erica’s Sweet Addiction
● M&M Bar-B-Que
● Guy’s Dawgs
● Letha’s Sweets
● Rockin’ Rolled Ice Cream
● Beads and Beyond
● Dragonfly Designs LLC
● Chiefs Designs
● Seneca Health Services Inc.
● Seed Sower
● Valley Works Resource Center
● God’s Way Home
● Chess Health
● Bryce George
● Greenbrier West Students
● Dwain Sheppard
● Melissa Thornton
● Tayler Hiser
● Jennifer Crane
● Dara Vance
● Tina Tuck
● Valley Works Resource Center