The Recovery Walk ended at the First Baptist Church in Bennington, where a tree was planted to honor those hurt by addiction.

By Emily Gabert , Special to the Banner

BENNINGTON — Beating the opioid epidemic will require the stigma around addiction be lifted, says those who've seen loved ones struggle with addiction or dealt with it themselves. To do this, people need to work together to bring addiction out of the darkness and into the light, said Geri Gilmore, a member of Manchester's chapter of "Fed Up," a group seeking a federal response to the increase in opioid addiction across the country. 

"By educating the public, refuting denial, and fostering every ounce of compassion from every heart that we can touch together, we can find solutions to this crisis," Gilmore said, to a crowd gathered at the First Baptist Church in Bennington. She considers herself to be a witness of substance abuse disorder as she has had loved ones' struggle with the condition. 

Her remarks followed the fourth annual Recovery Walk, held Saturday in Bennington and hosted by the Turning Point Center. The walk takes place in September to coincide with National Recovery Month.

Ken Sigsbury, executive director of the Turning Point Center — Who has also been appointed to the Governor's Opiate Coordination Council — estimated that Saturday's event had the largest turnout yet, involving about 100 people.

Walkers clapped and cheered as they went down Pleasant Street decked out in bright orange shirts, carrying signs bearing messages of hope and love. The walk ended at the First Baptist Church where those involved planted a tree to honor the lives lost to addiction, to honor those in or seeking recovery, and to honor the family members affected by addiction. Following that, there was a reception with several guest speakers.

Some of the speakers chose not to offer their surnames. The Banner has decided to honor that. 

"Ghandi said, `the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,'" Gilmore said. "The stigma and shame inflicted on those who suffer from this disease, shows how far we fall short for this measure of society."

"Gretchen," a member of Fed Up, encouraged others to contact local representatives to help with the battle against addiction. Another effort the group is working toward is getting the United States Food and Drug Administration to address marketing techniques used by opioid manufacturers. They also want to implement the National Academy of Sciences recommended changes to opioid policies.

"We together have the stronger voice and we need everybody to come together and listen up," Gretchen said. "We are tired, we're exhausted, but we are putting our plan into action. I don't want another family to ever hear the words `there is no room for you, there's no bed available, go home and treat this like it's the flu."

"If you have diabetes, if you have heart disease, you can get help," Gretchen said. "If you're an addict they say, `go home.'"

She said her and three other members of Fed Up had to go outside of Vermont to have their loved ones get help because of the limited amount of space that local organizations have for recovering addicts.

House Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, said that more beds have been made available for those wishing to seek recovery. Local legislators met with Turning Point earlier this year to discuss helping addicts and those who are recovering. One of the main needs is available beds in treatment facilities. An opportunity to enter recovery is lost whenever someone is turned away for lack of space. 

"From this discussion, real time initiatives were put in place with state officials and local partners. Turning Point lead the charge on this issue and we are not being told that the wait list has been improved and in some cases are gone," Morrissey said. "Just this week, the governor, attorney general, and others announced that the wait list in all six Vermont opiate hubs have been eliminated."

In July, the National Control Policy director said that Vermont has made the most strides in expanding efforts to help more people seek treatment than any other states, she said.

"That is good news, however, we know that we need to do better and much more," Morrissey said. "Especially as new challenges present themselves. Our state and local law enforcement and courts are working with the health system to get individuals into recovery treatment, and our focus is on prosecuting our dealers to the fullest extent of the law."

Since addiction is not a "one size fits all" issue, she said that doors will need to be made open for better treatment.

"We have also made progress with protocols for prescribing opioids for pain management with the medical community," Morrissey said. "But we need to do more."

Sigsbury reminded everyone that Turning Point has resources available for people facing any kind of addiction, and that they also help family members who are impacted by the disease as well. To learn more about the Turning Point Center of Bennington County, visit  or on Facebook at,  

Reach the Bennington Banner at news@benningtonbanner.com

Standing for Recovery

Editor's note: This article was updated on April 25, 2017, at 10:01 a.m. to clarify that Turning Point Youth Coordinator, Thomas Bruso, was reading from a letter written by someone else.

BENNINGTON — People gathered on the lawn of the Bennington Town Offices with white candles in hand o commemorate loved ones who lost the battle of addiction.

The candle light memorial "Light the Night for Recovery" was hosted by the Turning Point Center of Bennington County on Saturday. This was the second annual vigil.

Three speakers stood at the podium and gave speeches entailing either their own struggles with addiction or told a story about an individual close to them who died as a result of addiction.

Attendees had a chance to go up to the podium and say a loved one's name to recognize and to remember them. As each person said a name, the town bell rang. The bell rang roughly 14 times throughout the vigil.

Beneath the podium, there laid a sign with the word "hope" filled with flowers. Beneath the sign, the steps of the town offices were filled with candles and small memorials for those who had passed away, placed by the deceased loved ones.

According to Turning Point Director, Ken Sigsbury, in 2015 there were 44 people in the state of Vermont who died from opium related overdoses.

"Last year, 104 people died from prescription drug overdose," Sigsbury said. " according to the previous annual overdose report, the overdose deaths in 2016 were highest in the past decade, in the state of Vermont.

Sigsbury said the number of heroin overdose deaths has doubled from 29 in 2015 to 51 in 2016.

Local poet Bonnie Lynch, recited her poem "Addiction Ship." Each line of the poem described the narrator watching as a loved one was carried away by the ship into the currents of addiction. Before reciting her poem, Lynch told a tale about family members who struggled with addiction and about her own father and step father's struggles.

As an addict, her step father would become abusive and the words he spoke during those dark times have stayed with Lynch throughout her entire life. Lynch's biological father, whose location she found out 21 years later, died two days after she rediscovered him.

"In the Bennington community and beyond, so many people are suffering," Lynch said. "The fact that so many people are here this evening together, gathered, with a hopeful spirit and a heavy heart we're so fortunate to have Turning Point."

Turning Point Youth Coordinator, Thomas Bruso, read a letter written by a person struggling with addiction dedicated to their family and friends.

"Though I may have started using drugs by choice, the disease has progressed. I now have no choice but to use them. Please try to understand that I suffer from a disease and that my drug use is not the result of a moral failing or weakness of will. Simply put, I want to stop but cannot."

In the letter, the author described how they wants their loved ones to know their addiction is not their fault - and their efforts to try and get him to stop drugs, while appreciated, hasn't been helping with their recovery. They also wants people to know it is not easy to just quit drugs.

"You wouldn't be angry at me for having cancer or diabetes. The scolding and lecturing are actually counterproductive," reads the letter, "because they make me feel even more ashamed and guilty than I already do. Please realize addiction thrives in shame and guilt though it is hard to understand, I have a disease of addiction. As with any chronic illness, willpower [alone] will not heal me."

Instead of having their loved ones so focused on the author and their road to recovery, they want their loved ones to focus on their own lives. The author believes there is a solution and that they will recover and that there are also organizations where the families of addicted can reach out to get support.

"Thank you for loving me and trying to help me," the author wrote."I look forward to the day when I have regained your trust and support, based on my commitment to recovery. I know it will take time for this to happen, but I finally feel as though I have the courage and strength to beat this disease and start living a life that makes me happy and fulfilled, and we can have many happy family memories to come in the future."

The Turning Point Center is located at 465 Main Street. It offers support for those who are struggling with addictions and to the family of those individuals. For more information call 802-442- 9700 or you can visit their website tpcbennington.org

Walsh leaves heartwarming legacy at Turning Point

By Makayla-Courtney McGeeney mmcgeeney@benningtonbanner.com

BENNINGTON—Putting heart in the operation is what Turning Point director Joan Walsh will be remembered for.

She's retiring from the recovery center in Bennington after six years. A dinner celebrating her accomplishments was held on Tuesday night at the Old First Church Barn. Dignitaries such as state representatives for Bennington Mary Morrissey and Dick Sears attended as well as various community members.

Volunteer Ken Sigsbury will take Walsh's place.

"I tell people that the first month [of retirement] is mine," Walsh said. "Then, I'll think about what's next."

Walsh's retirement cake read "Thank you for making a difference in our lives and putting a heart in Turning Point." The director recounts her first days at the center as a volunteer and the bad reputation it had.

She went from a volunteer to a volunteer coordinator and then eventually worked as the director. To her knowledge, she's been the longest standing director. Sue Juliano was the director at Turning Point when Walsh got involved.

On Tuesday evening a slideshow with newspaper articles was revealed at the retirement dinner. Each one headlined all of the center's advancements under Walsh's direction.

They include the Annual Recovery Walk and film screenings in September for National Recovery Month, a candlelight vigil at the Town Offices to honor those who lost their battle with alcohol and substance abuse addiction, a picnic in April for the recovery community, and more.

"I started improving its image in the community by improving what's inside," Walsh said about bettering the center when she started. "This place is built on volunteers. It's a well-kept secret in a lot of ways. There's so much it offers to all walks of life."

Walsh said many people in the community didn't know what the center was, what its purpose was or where it was and her focus was "on turning it around."

However, she said her most important mission was raising awareness about addiction as an illness and the value of recovery. She compared it to breaking a leg and learning how to walk on it again. People in recovery need to relearn the basic skills of life without drugs or alcohol, she said.

"You never hear about recovery," she said. "It's something that's ongoing. You hear about prevention and treatment. Treatment ends. Recovery is a lifelong process. We're all in recovery in our own way. I call it a journey inward. We're all in it together."

Turning Point has about a dozen regular volunteers. Some are in recovery or have recovered from addiction. Walsh noted that being a volunteer at a recovery center helps in that journey to a sober life. She compared it to a cancer patient in recovery who connects with another survivor immediately versus trying to connect with someone who hasn't experienced the same things.

"What people don't realize is that this is a peer-to-peer organization," she said. "All services are free. It's a safe place for people in recovery."

Walsh got into the drug and alcohol counseling field as a family member of an alcoholic. She wishes to continue to advocate for family support groups. Again, she mentioned family members going through a cancer tragedy and how there's awareness of cancer support groups.

"I have a passion for recovery," she said. "People say to me that it's warm when they [enter the center]. I tried to make it seem like a home, not an office."

She explained that she didn't realize the impact she had on people until the retirement dinner when people told her just that.

Turning Point Recovery Center sees roughly 700 visitors per month, Walsh estimated. Its Facebook page states that it helps "people find, maintain, and enhance their recovery experience through peer support and substance free recreational and educational opportunities." It's one of 11 centers throughout Vermont.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.

Three-film series about drug addiction to be presented at Southern Vermont Arts Center

By Makayla McGeeney

mmcgeeney@benningtonbanner.com @MC_McGeeney on Twitter

MANCHESTER — Starting April 28, a three-film series about drug addiction will be shown at the Southern Vermont Arts Center hosted by The Collaborative, Turning Point Recovery Center and Burlington Labs.

"The Other Side of Cannabis" will be shown on Thursday at the center's Arkell Pavilion at 7 p.m. for free. The independent film, directed by Jody Belsher and produced by HeartsGate Productions, Inc., is a 2015 winner for best feature documentary at the Sunset Film Festival in Los Angeles and explores the negative health effects marijuana has on youth.

After the viewing, a panel discussion will be held featuring Turning Point Director Joan Walsh, members from The Collaborative, and Dr. Nels Kloster, addiction psychiatrist. For other post-film conversations, a local police officer will be in attendance as well as the movie producer for "The Hungry Heart," recovering addicts, individuals who lost family members to addiction, and other medical professionals. There will be different moderators for each film, too.

The birth of the series came from Stephanie Lorrette from Burlington Labs because she felt there was a sense of misunderstanding or lack of knowledge in the community about addiction. She was inspired after hearing about "The Hungry Heart" from Dr. Kloster.

"I just really wanted to educate the community because I always hear negative things about drugs and a lack of knowledge," she said. "I wanted to bring forward some sort of educational series."

Executive Director of The Collaborative Maryann Morris hopes it will increase dialogue in the area about the issues of substance abuse, particularly amongst youth, and how it impacts the community.

With the first film talking about marijuana, Morris said there's not a direct correlation of it being a gateway drug to others, but it's the most widely used substance by young people, who are at a higher risk of continuing on to other drugs later in life.

"I'm very focused for the conversation to be on the health implications per use because I don't want to muddy the waters with the legalization conversation," Morris said. "They're very much considering the impact on young people health-wise. A lot of it will be big money like tobacco influencing young people's decision."

She added that continuing the series may be a possibility.

"I would like to do a follow-up series with different films. We know they're pretty powerful and they haven't been shown in the Northshire, particularly 'Hungry Heart,' which is a Vermont made movie," she said. "I'd love to make this a regular film series and show dramatization movies to increase the conversation with youth and the community."

"The Hungry Heart," directed by Bess O'Brien, won the national American Society of Addiction Medicine Media Award for 2015 and takes a look at the "hidden world of prescription drug addiction through the world of Vermont Pediatrician Fred Holmes." Holmes is a suboxone prescriber; the drug is used to help addicts recover, but is sometimes abused as a crutch. The film interviews addicts and compares their recovery to that of Holmes' patients. This documentary will be shown on May 5.

Burlington Labs and Turning Point showed the same series at Southern Vermont College last year and that struck The Collaborative's interest in bringing it to the Northshire.

"It went very well, there were a lot of questions after the films," Turning Point's Walsh said. "There was an interesting exchange of thoughts and ideas. The largest attendance was for 'The Other Side of Cannabis.' The people who come have an interest and join us to be able to learn something."

Walsh said there was a good mix of adults and young adults at the Bennington film panels. Even though Bess O'Brien of "The Hungry Heart" didn't attend, a member from the movie who works at Burlington Labs was present and provided insight on the other cast members who are in recovery.

Greg D. Williams is the director of "The Anonymous People" that was released in 2013 and follows citizens, leaders, volunteers, corporate executives and other public figures in recovery in an effort to fight the stigma that recovering addicts should keep silent. The documentary sparked the Many Faces 1Voice campaign in order to change the public's perception and response to the addiction crisis. This will be shown on May 12.

"We really want to tune people into what addiction is and who it affects and what we can do to change our views and promote healthier living," Lorrette said."

— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.

'Light the Night for Recovery' remembers those defeated by drug overdoses

By Makayla McGeeney

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mmcgeeney@benningtonbanner.com @MC_McGeeney on Twitter

BENNINGTON —The Turning Point Center of Bennington County hosted a candlelight vigil on Saturday night in order to remember lives lost to the disease of addiction.

Tears flowed when Debbie Stell spoke to the crowd of over 80 about her son Clark who was living in Bennington and died of an overdose while his mother lived four hours away. Her other son Lance, who was present, also struggles with addiction.

"I don't understand it, because I don't understand addiction," Stell said. "I want everyone to know that I helped both of my children as much a I could. You cannot enable your children and that's when I had to back away."

A sign with the word HOPE, also the theme of the night, was stationed at the front of the office along with staggered candles lit across the stairs.

After people walked up to the podium and said a name they wished to recognized, the Town Office bell rang, and for a total of 21 times, followed by a moment of silence.

"I lost a childhood best friend of mine to addiction, her name was Heather Jones. It's been four years," Bennington resident Lisa Rhoade said. "With the past events in my hometown, they need more things like this to show that there is support out there to help them. Not everyone wants the help, but at least this way they know it's there."

Stell funded a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000, she made bracelets that collected $300 as well as a raffle that will be sold on her passed son's birthday to all benefit Turning Point.

"I just pray that there are addicts out here that will use this resource [Turning Point]," she said. "Save your mom from getting that phone call. Let them help you, and if the only way I can help is to raise money to put resources into it, then that's what I'll do.

State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington and chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, shared a few words about a friend who started using heroin after getting a back injury and receiving prescribed pain killers.

In 2015, five people died in Bennington County either evidentially, undetermined and involving an opioid, heroin or fentanyl, according to the Vermont Department of Health. For the entire state, Sears said 108 lost their lives last year.

"If 108 people died from traffic accidents, there would be outrage," Sears said. "Four years ago, about this time, the Legislature passed a law that said if you're with someone who is having a heroin overdose, and you're trying to get help for that person, we're not going to hold you accountable for anything. You're actually doing the right thing, even if you were in possession of heroin yourself."

The individual Sears talked about, who he referred to as Vern, died alone in his apartment after a standby left scared. Sears said he liked to think that law was created after Vern with his efforts. He mentioned that 500 plus individuals have been saved by Naloxone or Narcan, a nasal injection that reverses a drug overdose and is now used by Turning Point, law enforcement, and medical personnel.

"It was just amazing," Turning Point Director Joan Walsh noted after the event. "There was such unity in seeing the lights shining with the message of hope."

Local guitarist and music teacher Krista Speroni accompanied the event and will also be featured during All Species Day on April 23.

"I had friends that I lost to addiction and I also battle addiction. It's [vigil] an amazing thing. " New York resident Desiree Walizer said. "I do a lot of things at Turning Point, it's a great center."

Turning Point is located at 465 Main St. and offers peer support to individuals and families struggling with the effects of a variety of addictive behaviors. Call 802-442-9700 for more information or visit www.turningpointbennington.org.

—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.

Turning Point Center to begin raising money for new facility in 2016

By Keith Whitcomb Jr.
kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com @kwhitcombjr on Twitter

Omission: House Rep. Timothy Corcoran II, D-Bennington, was also in attendance. This article was updated on Dec. 17, 2015, to reflect this.

BENNINGTON — The Turning Point Center will begin a fundraising campaign in the coming year in order to purchase a larger space.

The Center hosted a legislative breakfast Wednesday where many Bennington County state legislators attended to hear about what's new at the Center.

The Turning Point Center, at 465 Main Street, is one of several in the state that acts as a resource hub for those seeking recovery from addiction. It's staffed mostly by volunteers who steer those battling addiction, and their friends and family members, towards agencies that can assist them.

"In the coming year, we are going to be launching a building fundraiser," said Joan Walsh, director of the Bennington Turning Point Center. "We want very much to expand, we want to be able to provide more services for families, for youth. We don't have the space here to do that."

She said a new location has been staked out and there have been talks with a bank. All the Center needs now is $90,000 for a down payment, of which a third has already been raised. Walsh said that not long ago, a person anonymously donated $1,000 in cash towards the building fund after hearing about it.

"I think that also speaks a lot about what people are experiencing here, and the belief in what we're doing," she said.

House Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford, said there are grant opportunities through the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services.

Aside from Botzow, House Reps Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, Allison Miller, D-Shaftsbury, Steven Berry, D-Manchester, Timothy Corcoran II, D-Bennington, and Bennington County Democratic Senators Dick Sears and Brian Campion, were in attendance.

Walsh said that new to the Center this year are Naloxone kits, which it distributes for free to anyone who wants one. The kits are simple to use and reverse opioid overdoses. While they can be given out any time, The Turning Point Center has staff on hand to train people in their use Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The kits only work on opioid overdoses. They have no effect, good or bad, on someone who has overdosed on a non-opioid substance.

The Center got the kits in October and has since given them to 37 people. Among them, parents worried that their son would suffer an overdose.

"They were very worried about him. They were doing an intervention, so they wanted one of these kits. We gave them one, and unfortunately, the son did overdose," Walsh said. "They didn't get there in time to use it, which is one of the reasons we want to keep putting the word out there about this, because there's so many overdoses right now."

Another thing the Center is excited about are little green cards.

"This is what we're calling the 'Reach Out' card," she said, showing the gathered legislators one of the cards. "It's a two sided card and it actually speaks to people who are struggling with addiction, or their family members and friends, whoever might have an interest in any of this."

The cards have the Center's number and address and are being given out to multiple agencies that have contact with those addicted to drugs, or the families and friends thereof.

The Center has also been adjusting the times of the various meetings held there to maximize attendance, Walsh said.

Walsh is the only full-time employee at the Center. Another person works one day a week there, and another is funded through a grant.

"This center is what it is today because of the volunteers," she said, a little more than half a dozen of which were present.

She said the Center is also starting to attract college interns.

"We now have students from different colleges wanting to do internships here, and we didn't have that before, that started just about a year ago," she said.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115

Recovery Walk marches down Main Street

TOM MOMBERG, Staff Writer

BENNINGTON — The Turning Point Center of Bennington County organized a march of roughly 60 people down Main Street on Saturday to raise awareness about addiction and recovery services with the inaugural ‘Recovery Walk.'

With the sponsored help of the Vermont Recovery Network and Burlington Labs, Turning Point wants to make the recovery walk an annual event. On Saturday, volunteers and individuals involved with recovery, drew the attention of Main Street with bright colors, uniform shirts and homemade banners. Horns blared and people cheered them on from the street.

"People took notice," said Turning Point director Joan Walsh. "How can you not be aware of that many people walking down the sidewalk? In all honesty, for the first one: I couldn't be happier. It shows that people are ready to say ‘hey, we are in recovery and it works one day at a time.'"

The walk ended at the town offices on South Street, where walkers were met by live music and rallying speeches by Walsh, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Mark Ames, coordinator for VRN.

Turning Point of Bennington County is but one of 11 state-initiated nonprofit recovery centers in Vermont, which provide peer support for those recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.

"Those of you that understand, because you have addictions, get it: That I was trapped. I couldn't stop. I would start using and I would keep going, even though as a result, I wasn't living," said Ames, who has been in long-term recovery from addiction. He said he has not consumed any drugs or alcohol for over 31 years.

"I didn't know (at the time) that recovery involved a lot more than just not using," Ames said. "That's the amazing thing about what's going on in the recovery network: People that are joining us are finding out that it's not just about not using, It's about having a sense of community and taking on a better life."

Even though Vermont might be limited in its number of suboxone clinics and rehabilitation centers, it was one of the first states to have implemented a recovery network, which takes on a bigger component of recovery. The Turning Point Center provides people with a sense of community and helps people find reasons to want to go into recovery. Treatment is not possible unless that person really wants to recover. VRN strives to make that opportunity available.

"When the recovery network came up in front of (the appropriations committee), they said ‘we don't know if we are going to save you money, but we are going to help people and make a difference.' Quite frankly, from what we see here today: It has made a difference in Bennington County," Sears said.

Find the Turning Point Center and Club, 465 Main St., on Facebook or Google Plus or by calling 802-442-9700. Turning Point staff and volunteers will help anybody suffering from addiction, or their families, locate recovery resources and get them involved in group therapy.

Learn more about the VRN online at https://vtrecoverynetwork.org