Upcoming events will remember those who lost addiction battle
Michael T. Brandon of Norwich was an avid Red Sox fan, an amazing dancer and loved funky socks, according to his family. He was the foreman of his stepfather's tree business and aspired to become a personal trainer.
He overdosed on fentanyl and died on Feb. 21, 2016.
He is "forever 27."
Over the next two Saturdays, Brandon and other young people who died as a result of heroin and opioid addiction will be remembered at events in Griswold and Groton organized by friends and family members who are working to end the stigma of addiction, raise funds for treatment and provide sober activities for those in recovery.
Matt's Mission Walk and Fundraiser, named in honor of the late Matthew P. Barrett, will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Veterans Memorial Park in Jewett City.
The Christopher Johns Memorial Sober Softball tournament, with eight teams named for local men and women who died from the effects of heroin or opiates, is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Washington Park in Groton.
Matthew Barrett's mother, Kathleen Dufficy, said her son struggled with addiction for 12 years before dying on Nov. 23, 2015, at age 32, of injuries he suffered two weeks earlier in a car accident.
Though he had been working to stay clean and had gone out to dinner with his mother two nights earlier, she said medical tests showed he had ingested methadone, heroin and benzodiazepines before the crash.
"I suffered in silence for many years because he had substance abuse issues," Dufficy said. "There was such a stigma and shame attached to it. We have to treat it as the disease it is."
She said people with substance abuse problems should be treated, not punished.
Dufficy organized Matt's Mission with her daughter, Kelly Barrett, and her son's girlfriend, Kim Coffey. They have already raised more than $900 through a T-shirt campaign and donated it, along with a gift of more than $400 from the former Griswold Regional Lions Club, to Griswold PRIDE — Partnership to Reduce the Influence of Drugs for Everyone.
On Saturday, participants will walk about a mile loop from the park through downtown Jewett City and back to the park. There will be speakers from the treatment and prevention communities, food, music, face painting and other children's activities, information on treatment and a raffle of a private sailing trip to Fisher's Island.
Registration for the walk is $10. Dufficy said those who can't afford to walk or can't walk are encouraged to attend and enjoy the free activities.
"If we can help one person, it's all worth it," she said. "People have been sweeping this under the rug for far too long."
Christopher Johns Memorial Sober Softball Tournament
Eight teams will take the field at Washington Park on Oct. 1 in T-shirts bearing the names and "forever" ages (at death) of young people who struggled with opiate addiction.
Community Speaks Out president Tammy de la Cruz said she was looking to do something to honor the memory of Christopher Johns, the son of her close friend and fellow Community Speaks Out founder Lisa Cote Johns.
Chris Johns, who had aspired to be a doctor, had become addicted to painkillers following a series of accidents and then started using heroin. He was 33 when he died from an overdose on Oct. 2, 2014, in a sober house in New London.
His mother has been working tirelessly to educate young people about the dangers of opioids and to help those who are struggling with addiction.
"We hadn't done anything in memory of her son yet," de la Cruz said. "I felt like she needed something big to honor her son. I figured, let's honor Chris and make this his yearly event."
De la Cruz also was struck when a young man from Groton that Community Speaks Out had helped get into treatment commented at the group's monthly support meeting that he had to move out of the area because there wasn't enough "sobriety," or enough of a sober community.
"We've been helping people get sober, but the only way to make the connection is to get recovery here," de la Cruz said. "If you look into other places, like Utah, you'll find they have sober softball leagues. We have beer leagues every year, but we don't really have sober leagues. So people don't have to live separately from their families, we need to get recovery here. We need to encourage health and wellness."
She said each team will have 11 to 13 players who pay $20 to participate and proceeds from the tournament would go to helping people in recovery.
She also may try to organize a sober bowling night and said she plans to reach out to people in sober houses.
"I'm so excited about this tournament," she said. "I didn't want to open it to only people in recovery. I wanted to invite others in the community. Everyone needs to respect what they are going to and if they want to join in, they can play alongside them."
Her son, Joey Gingerella, who has struggled with an addiction to painkillers, has taken a lead role in organizing the tournament, de la Cruz said, and it's been therapeutic for him.
The public is invited to watch the tournament, which will have food trucks, face painting, music and a massage therapist who will donate the proceeds of one-minute massages.
Several businesses and private citizens have stepped up to offer their help, de la Cruz said.
The day also is expected to include at least one pleasant surprise, she said.
"There is one team made up of people in recovery," she said. "They're planning something special. They won't tell us what."
Teams at the Christopher Johns Memorial Softball Tournament are named for the following people:
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