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Grasso Tech students hold Recovery Fest to show people that help is available

Groton — Ella T. Grasso Technical High School students, wearing T-shirts saying "Awareness, Support and Advocacy," gathered with the community on Friday to send a message to people facing addiction or mental health issues: help is available and you are not alone.

"There's so many people who are stuck in this pandemic of addiction, and we want to show them that there's help," said Leah LaPointe, 16, a junior at Grasso Tech.

Members of the school's Students for Recovery club, which is working to reduce the stigma of addiction and offer support, organized the first Recovery Fest on Friday afternoon at Poquonnock Plains Park to bring together resources and offer an opportunity to share stories about addiction or mental health issues and recovery. Community Speaks Out, Groton Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention and Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, or CCAR, provided support in putting together the event, students said.

"It's all right to reach out. It's all right to get help," said Kalvin Pounch, 16, a junior. "You aren't alone in this world."

Samantha Holley, 17, a junior, said the students of the club are all happy to be doing something with purpose and to know that they are making a change.

Music played as people visited booths to learn about recovery organizations and resources. The opioid overdose-reversal drug Narcan was available, as well as medication lockboxes and disposal bags. People then came together to listen to speeches that people shared about recovery.

Town Mayor Juan Melendez Jr. called the students "very inspiring" and thanked all the agencies. He also said he was so inspired by the work of Dave Ogden, a teacher leader of the Students for Recovery club.

Ogden quoted poetry from his father, who was a writer and believed people heal through words and sharing stories. Ogden said his hope for the event was to share stories so people can learn from one another and the common threads of love and loss and other things that all people share. He said when people "start to acknowledge those things, that's when we start to recover and are able to look at things in a different light."

Ogden shared his own story about how his son died in a car accident. Every Grasso faculty member showed up at his son's funeral and allowed him the time and space he needed.

He said the loss was difficult, and his doctors put him on benzodiazepines for two years to sleep at night. One day when he ran out of medicine, he decided to quit cold turkey. A few days later, he started having mini-seizures and ended up in the hospital for several days.

Ogden, a school counselor at Grasso Tech, previously shared his story with Grasso Tech students at a Senior Summit, along with other speakers, and students said his story inspired them. This past fall, he was speaking with students and talking about how they want a voice, which helped lead to the creation of the Students for Recovery group. He said school counselor Robert Bosco also has been instrumental in providing support for the group, along with TJ Aitken, young people and family services manager for CCAR.

Mike Pohl, a person in recovery who has been sober since March 1984, shared his own story of recovery and how he has helped other people recover. "I know that recovery is possible," he said. "That's really important."

Jim Dolan, who teaches at Grasso Tech and previously worked at several residential programs for substance abuse and young adult services, told the crowd that the students deserved a round of applause.

"You took the initiative and, especially at a time when such a need for addiction services and personal empathy has become so apparent in the age of COVID, a time when societal stress and lack of community support have strained the resolve of so many people suffering from addiction," he said.

Carolyn Wilson, coordinator for Groton Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, said in an interview that she's incredibly proud of the students for organizing the event. "They were passionate and they stood up and they got it done," she said.

Tammy de la Cruz, president of Community Speaks Out, said it's awesome to see the event that the students organized and she has told the students that they're an inspiration. She said she hopes that other schools will see what Grasso Tech has done to step up and how these students are a voice for the youth, and then follow suit.

k.drelich@theday.com

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