Walking for hope
Hundreds attend annual recovery walk
— Saturday’s bleak skies did nothing to dampen the mood behind the Cecil County Circuit Court, where hundreds congregated for the sixth annual Recovery Walk and Block Party.
All around the parking lot were different stories, different t- shirts, differ-
ent stages of recovery. But a common theme emerged from the many participants: addiction had, at some point, struck close to home, and they gathered there to support those on the path to sobriety.
Joseph Parker Sr., a 30- year- old who’s battled opiate addiction for half his life and been homeless off and on the past five years, said on Saturday that he was just days
away from beginning rehabilitative treatment. On Tuesday, he’ll admit himself to a methadone and detox clinic called A. F. Whitsitt Center in Chestertown, Md.
Parker grew up in Chesapeake City, and his addiction took hold at a young age. When he was 15, he started selling his mother’s prescription narcotics to help their family pay rent. Before long, he was abusing opiates and benzodiazepines, more commonly known as “benzos.”
Addiction has wreaked havoc on both him and his family for as long as he can remember. He’s had a number of run-ins with the law; his mother took her own life.
Now, he’d like to break that trend. He has two boys — an 11-year-old named Joseph Jr., and a 9- year- old named Jordan.
“I’m not there to support them right now,” he said. “Even if I hit the lottery tomorrow, I couldn’t buy back that time. There’s no buying time.”
In a county considered something of a midway point for drug trafficking between Philadelphia and Baltimore, where traffic stops have yielded several major drug busts in just the last few months, for many the Recovery Walk represents hope. By 10 a. m., scores of participants had lined up to register and get their neon green t- shirts.
Around 10: 30 a. m., local entertainer and event emcee Jack Foreaker ( who’s a recovering alcoholic 36 years sober himself, as well as executive director at the Elkton treatment center Haven House), introduced new Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Will Davis, who spoke briefly to a small crowd before the walk began.
“I just want you to know that you’re not alone,” Davis said, before noting his goal to establish a first offender drug court, “to catch you at the beginning, rather than later on.” That was met with some applause.
The walk kicked off at about 10: 40 a.m., with members of the all- sober Phoenix Motorcycle Club leading the way. Participants followed a loop around town that took about 20 minutes to complete for most.
For Michael “Pretty Boy” Stewart, a lifelong Elkton resident and the president of Phoenix M. C.’ s local extension, the matter of addiction is a pressing one. The club, which has chapters along the East Coast, requires that its members stay completely sober.
Last Monday, a former member died. He’d been kicked out of the group after relapsing some months ago.
“It’s really important [to address],” Stewart said. “I’ve been around Elkton my whole life, so I’ve seen the drugs, the demise. But I’ve also seen the recovery.
“And that’s what it’s about, saving lives.”
On Saturday, there were plenty of success stories. There was Kevin Mitchell, a 40-year-old Elkton man clean from heroin for about 22 months and marijuana for roughly a year, who volunteered his time to help register participants for the walk.
“I feel so much better now that I’m clean,” Mitchell said.
There was Albert Clark, a 24-year-old who’s been off heroin for 21 months and preparing to wean himself off the methadone he receives at Serenity Health in Elkton.
“If I can help one person out of 10, I’ll feel like I did something,” Clark said. “Because I was that one person.”
There was also an area dedicated to a different kind of second chance. The East Coast Adoption Agency, which rescues dogs from high-kill shelters in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, set up a a table and kennel area toward the back of the block party.
“To show people that these guys really need homes, that they come from rough upbringings,” said Erica Price, who heads a local division with her husband Jim, while both children and adults bent to pet the puppies around her.
The block party featured music and ventriloquism by Foreaker, and around 15 to 20 tents scattered across the parking lot. Some sold craft items like candles, some were for treatment clinics, another sought to register voters and recruit election judges.
Event organizers like Elaine Barclay and Theresa Hampton, who have been a part of all six of Elkton’s Recovery Walks, could be spotted darting from place to place, person to person, offering smiles and encouragement to those they knew well.
Another organizer, CEO of Serenity Health Nancy Turner, spoke to the gravity and importance of the walk: “It really brings out the understanding of how widespread substance abuse is.”
For a brief time before noon, it appeared the clouds would break and show some blue. They didn’t, not until later in the afternoon, but that didn’t seem to matter much.
In one parking lot in Elkton, the people focused on the task they had at hand, which on this day happened to be each other.
Joey Hunt, an Elkton man living in an addiction treatment center called Solutions House, completes the final stretch of Saturday’s Recovery Walk along Main Street.
The Recovery Walk began around 10:40 a.m., with members of the Phoenix Motorcycle Club — a sober group — leading the way.
Members of the Phoenix Motorcycle Club, from left to right: “Keebler,” “Pretty Boy,” “Chief,” “One Time,” “Prospect” and “Twisted.”
The first song local entertainer Jack Foreaker sang after the Recovery Walk was a playful one about 12-step programs. The chorus went something like, “We don’t need a drink / to throw a party. / Working on the steps / to get recovery started.”