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Event held to raise OD, suicide awareness

Theresa Austin, family support with the Rob Constantine Recovery Community and Outreach Center, places a pinwheel in front of the Montgomery County Public Safety Facility on Friday during A Moment of HOPE and Remembrance event. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

FULTONVILLE — Members of the community and local representatives in gathered at the Montgomery County Public Safety Facility to remember the lives lost to overdose and suicide, and to raise awareness.

The Montgomery County Suicide Prevention Task Force and the Montgomery County Overdose Awareness Task Force held a Moment of HO; PE and Remembrance on Friday in an effort to honor the lives lost to overdose and suicide.

“We are here to honor the lives that we have lost not only this year, but in our lifetime from overdose as well as suicide,” said Montgomery County Mental Health Director Sara Boerenko. “These issues are also very near and dear to my heart.”

Local representatives and community members placed pinwheels on the law in front of the Montgomery County Public Safety Facility to honor the lives lost. The facility is located at 200 Clark Drive, Fultonville where wave of blue and purple pinwheels can be seen glistening in the sun to catch the eyes of those who drive by and to help raise awareness.

Those who placed down a pinwheel also wrote the name of a person they personally lost or a brief message of the person in reference. Signs with statistics regarding overdose or suicide, as well as motivational hashtags, can also be seen in front of the building.

A panel was held following a A Moment of HO;PE and Remembrance event on Friday to discuss and answer questions related to suicide and overdose. Montgomery County Mental Health Director Sara Boerenko, center, introduces the panelists who included Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at St. Mary's Duane Miller, left, Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith, Boerenko, Nydia Hill, and Father Neal Longe of St. Ann's Episcopal Church, right. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

Marie Insogna, SERPA with the Rob Constantine Recovery Community and Outreach Center, was one of several to place a pinwheel in the lawn.

“Addiction and related issues have been a public health crisis for a very long time,” Insogna said.

Boerenko said events planned for Suicide Prevention Month and Overdose Awareness Day were canceled due to the pandemic, so task force officials decided to combine both events and hold the Moment of HO;PE and Remembrance Day. Boerenko said HO;PE, in the name of their event comes from “Project Semicolon”, a national initiative which is a movement dedication to mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

“We have been extremely busy facing challenges due to COVID-19 the last several months and the hope for this project is that we can remind people that suicide and overdose are still very real, and we as a community, need to remember the lives lost,” Boerenko said. “So much has been lost during the pandemic, including that social connection that has served as an anchor to keep struggling individuals alive and or sober.”

One of the organizers of the event and director of community education with Nathan Littauer, Tammy Merendo said “We’re just happy to be able to support such an important cause. We enjoy working closely with our public health departments.”

“This year has been a challenge, the community has gone through a lot of ups and downs which has exacerbated some of the issues we deal with on a regular basis,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort. “Overdose, suicide, domestic violence are all a very personal issue and one that I care deeply about. I’m just so thankful that we have a team in place that really feels the same way, feels as passionate as I do. Today is a good day to recognize who we are as a community and the challenges we face, raise awareness and do our part to make Montgomery County a better place.”

Following the ceremony, a discussion panel was held to try and answer questions and end stigma related to both topics. Panelists included Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at St. Mary’s Hospital Duane Miller, Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery T. Smith, Father Neal Longe from St. Ann’s Episcopal Church and Nydia Hill, who has overcame addiction herself and now works to help others in the community.

“We want to use this as an opportunity to be kind to one another, we don’t know other struggles people could have been facing during the pandemic and we really want to continue to spread the message of kindness and hope,” Boerenko said.

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