As the sun set near the American Legion Post 7 in Gainesville last night, over a hundred members of the community stood with lit candles to honor loved ones lost to substance use disorder.
This candlelight vigil was part of an event called Hall Recovers Night of Awareness, hosted by the Jeffrey Dallas Gay, Jr. Recovery Center, or J’s Place.
During the vigil, an event organizer would read aloud the name of a person from the community who passed away from substance abuse. A member of that person’s family, a friend, or an event volunteer would step forward to light their candle off of the original.
After all of the names were read and all candles had been lit, Art Gallegos, Jr. with the Latinos Conservative Organization ended the event with prayer.
The vigil was a solemn and shocking reminder of the prevalence of substance abuse in the Gainesville/Hall County community.
The event took place on International Overdose Awareness Day and was open to the public. In addition to the vigil, ten guest speakers shared testimonies about their own experience with substance abuse or with helping loved ones battle the disorder.
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal was among those who spoke at the event. He encouraged attendees to work as a community in finding a solution to substance use disorder.
“This is a community effort,” said Deal. “Most folks who suffer from drug addiction are not bad people, they just made some bad decisions in their life and we need to do things to try to get them into recovery and get their lives together.”
Last night’s Night of Awareness was the first of what event organizers plan to make an annual event.
Jordan Hussey, Executive Director of J’s Place, said that the goal of the event is twofold- raise awareness for and change the stigma toward substance abuse in the community.
“A lot of times when a child suffers through substance abuse there is a lot of stigma,” said Hussey. “But when people don’t talk about what the problems are and what the issues are, people die…our goal is we’re here, we want to talk about it.”
J’s Place Recovery Center is a place for those struggling with addiction to seek recovery. Some programs include counseling, recovery meetings and support groups. The center is led by people in long-term recovery.