GREENFIELD — Linda Ostewig wants to end the stigma that comes with addiction.
Brushing tears from her eyes, she looked onto a crowd of dozens who illustrate the hard work being done in Hancock County to achieve that goal. Every supporter in the crowd had been impacted by addiction in some way and packed the Hancock County Courthouse Plaza on Saturday to show they were united in that effort of washing away the shame that often clouds the recovery process.
The family and friends of residents across the area who have struggled with, overcome or fallen victim to addiction stood shoulder to shoulder with local stakeholders and government leaders who have dedicated their careers to finding substance abuse during the county’s second recovery walk.
Story continues below gallery
The event is conducted in September to mark National Recovery Month. Saturday’s walk drew of crowd of more than 150 people who paced a 3-mile trek up and down the Pennsy Trail in Greenfield and brought with them a sense of unity within the recovery community.
The walk, organized jointly by the Hancock County Probation Department and The Landing, a local counseling center for teens, serves as a fundraiser for the new Talitha Koum Women’s Recovery House, which is being built in Greenfield. The 2015 walk raised more than $6,000 for the construction effort.
At the same time, the walk connects county residents to different recovery programs in the area while honoring the memory of those who have lost their life to an overdose.
Hancock County’s recovery walk will forever carry the name of the 26-year-old Greenfield woman who inspired the event; but organizers of The Ashley Burton Recovery Walk plan to honor a new person each year and hope that one day the story of an honoree is one of successfully overcoming substance abuse.
Those who struggle with addiction are so much more than just that struggle, Ostewig said. As the walk continues to grow, she hopes more people will learn to look at a person’s life instead of just its hardships.
“I wish we could get the stigma off of addiction,” Ostewig said, adding that many people assume addicts are criminals or inherently bad people. “The stigma has to change, … and there have to be people who speak out.”
The second annual walk was held in memory of Greenfield native and Mt. Vernon graduate Jeffery Franklin.
Franklin was 28 years old when he died in February of a heroin overdose, his brother, Jason Franklin, said.
Jeffery Franklin struggled with substance abuse most of his young life, but a serious car accident in December 2013 landed him with a painkiller addiction he just couldn’t shake, his brother said.
Jeffery Franklin enrolled in various recovery programs around Hancock County, and his family and friends thought he was doing better in the months before his death.
In February, Jeffery Franklin used a heroin mixture that was laced with morphine, and the combination took his life, his brother said.
“He was doing a lot better,” Jason Franklin said. “Unfortunately, with one little relapse, he wasn’t around to talk about it.”
In the weeks that followed Jeffery Franklin’s death, amid great sadness and grief came an outpouring of support from the community, which eventually inspired Jeffery’s family to speak out about his addiction, his brother said.
For the people who have lost friends and loved ones to addiction, the sight of hundreds standing together in solidarity, pledging to help raise awareness, is a real comfort, especially after a loss, walk organizers said.
Darlene Hatfield, mother to the walk’s namesake, Ashley Burton, who died of an overdose in March 2014, took to the microphone Saturday morning to thank those who gathered for attending the event. Last year, Burton’s family turned out in droves for the inaugural walk and released balloons into the air in the young woman’s memory.
This year, continuing that tradition, Hatfield and her family were joined by Jeffery Franklin’s family for a balloon release to kick off the walk, sending, again, bright pink balloons into the air in Burton’s memory and shining green stars for Franklin’s.
Jason Franklin said his family decided to lend his brother’s name to the 2016 Recovery Walk hoping those who attended would learn from his story and walk away with the understanding that addiction knows no boundaries.
“Before, the idea of a heroin-user was a junkie in an alley somewhere,” Jason Franklin said. “But now, it’s normal America. It’s filtered into everyday people.”
“If we can prevent just one person from losing a loved one, we’ve done our job,” he added.