By Makayla McGeeney
firstname.lastname@example.org @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.