Community Speaks Out now has a space of its own

Members of Community Speaks Out and the community gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, to mark the opening of the group's new headquarters at 214B Thames St. in the City of Groton. (Julia Bergman/The Day)
Members of Community Speaks Out and the community gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, to mark the opening of the group's new headquarters at 214B Thames St. in the City of Groton. (Julia Bergman/The Day)

Groton — With the unveiling of its new headquarters here on Saturday, Community Speaks Out now has a space of its own to help families whose loved ones are struggling with addiction.

No more working out of their house or out of their bags, remarked board member Cheryl Biekert. Tammy de la Cruz, one of the founding members, recalled having to move tables at a McDonald's in the midst of a very sensitive conversation. De la Cruz cofounded the grass-roots organization with Linda Labbe and Lisa Cote Johns, who said she still receives calls daily from families seeking help.

"We talked about brick and mortar since we started this," said state Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, Tammy's husband and also a founding member of the organization, which started about three years ago in the de la Cruzes' living room.

Now the group is renting a space at 214B Thames St., where about 40 people gathered Saturday to mark its opening. Officials present included Groton City police Chief Michael Spellman; Mayor Keith Hedrick, who pledged the city's commitment; several city councilors; the new Groton town manager, and state Rep. Christine Conley, a Democrat representing Groton and Ledyard. The headquarters is in Conley's district.

"We know we're in it for the long haul here and having a home with this facility shows that people's persistence and commitment is not wavering and that we're going to keep this incredible synergy and togetherness moving forward until we stop this," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who also was in attendance.

The new space includes rooms where meetings can be held and Community Speaks Out members, who are all volunteers, can speak with families in privacy. On a wall, in purple lettering, is the group's motto: "People helping people."

The idea of a small group of people coming together to make an impact in the community is shared by the Mystic-based group, The Power of Together Southeastern Connecticut 2, which presented a $10,450 check to Community Speaks out on Saturday. The group, with about 100 members and counting, meets quarterly to decide which local charities and causes to support.

Framed pictures of Joey Gingerella, the de la Cruzes' son, hang on several of the walls in the new space. Gingerella, who was killed in December 2016, was vocal in the community about his own struggles with addiction.

The family "took a leap of faith" by being vocal, Tammy de la Cruz said, noting that it started with Gingerella speaking to students at Fitch High School when he got back from his first rehab stay.

"This will be the voice that I have to continue for my son moving forward," she said.

The organization, its founders said, will continue to help families, remove the stigma surrounding addiction and raise awareness through events such as the Christopher Johns Second Annual Memorial Sober Softball Tournament this fall. Johns, the son of cofounder Cote Johns, died of an overdose on Oct. 2, 2014.

For more information, call or text Tammy de la Cruz at (860) 271-1835, Cote Johns at (860) 908-3305 or Labbe at (860) 823-8771, or go to Facebook.com/CommunitySpeaksOut.

j.bergman@theday.com

Members of Community Speaks Out and the community gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, to mark the opening of the group's new headquarters at 214B Thames St. in the City of Groton. (Julia Bergman/The Day)
Members of Community Speaks Out and the community gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, to mark the opening of the group's new headquarters at 214B Thames St. in the City of Groton. (Julia Bergman/The Day)

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