The Warwick Public Library had a display tent Saturday in the Warwick Mall parking lot, one of 20 tents representing agencies dealing from substance abuse recovery to suicide prevention.
The occasion, run by Rally 4 Recovery, was the first of four Saturday events in celebration of National Recovery Month. This is the second consecutive year the kickoff with music, activities for kids, plenty of food and inspirational talks has been held at the mall.
And what does the library have to do with overcoming addiction?
Jana Stevenson, deputy library director, didn’t have books or CDs to loan. There wasn’t even a flier about the library. Rather, spread on a table were prizes from miniature stuffed animals to small containers with the contents to blow bubbles. Indeed, Stevenson had customers from kids to adults anxious to take free chances on winning a prize depending where the chit they placed at the top of a board landed after bouncing between pegs.
Stevenson explained she wanted the library to have a presence to show its support of The Collaborative, Warwick’s Behavioral Health Initiative that holds monthly meetings at the library. The library is the newest member of The Collaborative started last year by Maureen Gouveia of the Providence Center and imbedded in the Warwick Police Department as its mental health liaison.
“The library is the general public,” Stevenson said, and for that reason she is looking for it to play a role in educating the public on addiction and recovery. The library will host the mini educational series “Let’s Talk” planned by the collaborative. Stevenson said the next event is slated for Nov. 26 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. with the topic being veterans and mental health. The monthly series will also address ways for parents to understand social media and what impacts it could have on children.
Additionally, Stevenson said the library’s participation in the rally gave her the opportunity to talk with people about library services and emphasize the point it’s “a great place to just hang out.”
Gouveia calls the collaborative comprised of representatives from 25 agencies a “grassroots” community effort to educate the public on mental health and addiction issues through its initiatives. Community Overdose Engagement (CODE) grants from BHDDH have funded collaborative efforts. Kathy Sullivan of the Kent County Prevention Coalition has also played an especially active role in the collaborative.
George O’Toole, president of Rally 4 Recovery and organizer of Saturday’s event, spoke of the role of the Warwick Police Department and how it has been there to not only assist with the event but throughout the year. In recognition of the department’s contribution, O’Toole presented Col. Rick Rathbun an award recognizing the department and its efforts. In accepting the presentation, Chief Rathbun pointed to the men and women of his department and their work, adding, “We have your back.”
The words resonated with successive speakers and was in keeping with the National Recovery Month theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Are Stronger.”
Those are words that have meaning for Willy Walton, who is now 22 years in recovery. Walton said alcohol and drugs robbed him of his ambition and gave him a life where the sole focus was the next high.
“You just survive in addiction, you don’t pay your bills,” he said.
His use of drugs led to his arrest but also to a way out. He credits his turnaround to Family Court Justice Debra E. DiSegna, who “gave me a second chance” and to his two sons and his friends.
“Drinking and getting high don’t work,” he said.
Walton believes athletes can have the greatest impact on youth because “the kids look up to them.”
As Walton talked, Lenny Tessier interrupted to give him a hug and pat on the back. Tessier said, “we look after each other.”
Also in recovery, Tessier said, “You have got to think sober, act sober and live sober.”
“It’s not my fault that I’m an alcoholic,” he said. “It’s my fault if I don’t do something about it.”
The month-long observance continues this Saturday with Rally 4 Recovery presence at WaterFire at the Turks Head Building in Providence from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; the Bristol Town Common in Bristol on September 21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and at Aquidneck Island in Pottsy Field, Middletown on September 28 from 12 to 4 p.m.