GREENFIELD — The day started off dreary and gray; spitting rain fell every few minutes, and an overcast sky left organizers wondering how much worse things could get.
But by the time participants in the inaugural Hancock County Recovery Walk were ready to take their first steps on the Pennsy Trail on Saturday, the sun had broken through the clouds.
The transition was not unlike the path to recovery, organizers said: trying and heavy at first but worth the fight in the end. As families and friends of those who have struggled with addiction shared stories and visited with leaders of groups dedicated to helping substance abusers, a feeling of hope filled the air.
“Recovery is reachable,” said Darlene Hatfield, whose daughter died of an overdose, “but you have to have support, and you have to have the tools with which to get better.”
More than 150 people gathered at the Hancock County Courthouse plaza for the walk, hosted jointly by the Hancock County Probation Department and The Landing, a local counseling center for teens. The event marked National Recovery Month, and those gathered heard from community officials about efforts to curb drug abuse in the county, as well as from several recovering addicts, who shared their personal struggles. Several area recovery groups dotted the plaza, handing out information to passers-by and answering questions about their programs.
The goal was to bring a sense of unity to the recovery community in Hancock County, said Amy Ikerd, a crime prevention specialist with the probation department.
Ikerd has seen strength in similar groups in neighboring counties. She said she wanted the walk and programs like it to bring those families who have been touched by addiction together, uniting them and empowering them to make a change.
The 2015 walk was conducted in memory of Hatfield’s daughter, Ashley Burton, a 2005 graduate of Eastern Hancock High School who died from an overdose in March 2014.
Burton had been in treatment for addiction to cocaine several times before her death. Saturday marked a year and six months of living without her, Hatfield told the crowd. The time has not been easy, but the family hopes telling Burton’s story during the event will help save lives. More than 40 of Burton’s friends and loved ones attended the walk to celebrate her life.
Kaylan Fields, Burton’s best friend, shared with the crowd how Burton’s death served as the catalyst she finally needed get sober.
“Sometimes, people have to die for others to live,” Fields said in her speech to the crowd.
To kick off the walk, Hatfield and her family released 26 pink balloons to mark the years of Ashley’s life.
“We are struggling to move forward without her; our lives have changed forever,” Hatfield said. “But I believe her voice can be heard today and believe she would be saying, ‘There is always hope for recovery.’”
Many of those who attended the walk had experienced similar tragedies. Organizers plan to highlight a different addict’s story every year the walk is held.
Janet Decker of Knightstown came to the walk in honor of a relative who struggles with addiction and her nephew, who died of an overdose. The event was an encouraging reminder that addicts and their families can find help and support in Hancock County, she said.
All funds raised from registration fees will be divided between The Landing and the new Talitha Koum Women’s Recovery House, which is being built in Greenfield.
An overarching theme for the day called for participants to walk a mile in an addict’s shoes. Linda Ostewig, director of The Landing, set out dozens of pairs of sneakers on the Pennsy Trail to represent those who have struggled with addiction. Signs along the trail encouraged walkers to keep pushing forward and never give up.
Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton took a moment to address the crowd, encouraging families to get seek help for people struggling with addiction before they turn to crime to support their habits.
“The best kind of criminal case is the one that we don’t get,” he said. “It’s the one we don’t get because (a drug user) had someone in their life that helped (them) get on a different path, who showed them compassion and the light to get to a different place where they can recover.”