WESTFIELD, NJ — Brett Bramble, along with walking partner, John “Stick” Azerolo, passed through Westfield on a months-long journey from Key West, Fla. to Calais, Maine in an effort to raise awareness of opioid overdose and addiction.
Bramble walks for his sister Brittany, who died of an overdose in 2014, while Azerolo walks to support friends who have lost daughters to the opioid epidemic.
“Most residents seem grateful that we are bringing this conversation to Westfield,” said Bramble. “As we were coming into the community, people were out in their yards with their dogs and their kids and rather than being defensive about two guys with strollers, they were receptive. They came up and they wanted to know what we were doing.”
The two greeted approximately 30 local community members outside of Bovella’s Bakery and embarked on a ceremonial walk from the bakery to Mindowaskin Park that was organized by Bramble’s aunt and Westfield resident, Traci Gleeson.
“This is affecting many families in Westfield — directly and indirectly. It’s an epidemic, as we know, and we really need to focus on this and make some changes,” said Ward 1 Councilman Frank Arena, who participated in Saturday’s walk. “It’s great that he’s doing this. It’s definitely helping to bring awareness to it.”
While in town, the two were invited to speak at Westfield High School on the dangers of opioid use, addiction and overdose.
“He spoke candidly about being molested as a teenager and his subsequent addiction to opioids and trouble,” a press release from Westfield school district reads. “Bramble and Azerolo urged the teenagers to educate themselves about the dangers of drug use and to not be afraid to call 911 if they suspect someone is overdosing.”
Bramble, who thought that he would have to dilute his talking points when speaking with high school students, was impressed that he was encouraged to share his full story, he said.
“I came in thinking I was going to speak with kid gloves and keep it very soft, and the teachers helped me realize that I needed to be a little more firm, a little more real,” said Bramble. “They saw a really good opportunity of us being there and they took it.”
Westfield High School Health teacher Susan Kolesar, who was at Saturday's walk said that, despite being behind as she prepares for finals, she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to have her students hear Bramble’s story.
“How do you not take this once in a lifetime opportunity,” Kolesar said about Bramble’s visit. “Literally, as kids were in the hallway that I know struggle with various challenges, even though they may be different from his challenges, I wanted to have them come and listen because he is so inspirational.”
Bramble and Azerolo are averaging about 100 miles a week and hope to wrap up their journey in mid-August.
Anyone interested in donating to Bramble’s cause can visit BrettBrambleWalks.com to make a donation. Donations will go directly to Bramble’s Freedom to Grow initiative, which is intended to help those with troubled pasts have happy and healthy futures.