BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Last Friday, April 7, all students in every grade at Ridge High School attended a daytime assembly to hear former NBA star Chris Herren recount his journey of drug addiction that ruined his basketball career and nearly lost him his life. He also spoke about his recovery.
In a community and high school where both recent Ridge graduates or current students have lost their lives to drug overdoses or other tragic deaths, the students listened intently, some of them overcome with emotion, as Herren talked of issues surrounding self-confidence, self-esteem, mental health and peer pressure.
Herren, who returned to Basking Ridge after another packed presentation arranged by Community in Crisis in 2015, spoke this time specifically to students in the Performing Arts Center at Ridge High School. Mike Robertson, Somerset County Prosecutor and Basking Ridge resident, was also in attendance.
Herren told the students that it was the stress and pressure that he felt during his high school years that led him to drink and smoke pot as a coping mechanism.
Herren went on to praise kids who feel they can socialize and cope without getting high.
Community in Crisis, a local 501(c)3 a Somerset Hills grassroots movement of volunteers dedicated to providing education and raising awareness of substance use disorder and preventing overdose deaths, sponsored the event.
Students and organizers and supporters of the event gathered with Herren before his presentation. They included (pictured above, from left) Jay Bober of Ridge Youth Sports, Inc.; Lucas Miller, Ridge High School president; Jean O’Connell, Treasurer of Community in Crisis (CIC); Chris Herren; Sam Lettie, Ridge Wellness Club founder; Anastasia Mahdavian, student representative for CIC; Hersh Gupta, student representative, CIC, and Clodette Sabatelle, volunteer for CIC. All except Herren are residents of Basking Ridge.
A significant part of the funding for this event came from a fundraising event held in March for young adults in NYC, organized by Ridge graduates, Amanda Sabatelle and Rob Monastero, out of concern about the local impact of the substance abuse epidemic, according to CIC. Ridge Youth Sports, Inc. (RYSI), was also a supporting partner.
Steve Mueller, Chairman of RYSI, said of the event, “Supporting this initiative to educate high school students about the dangers of prescription pills and heroin falls right in our wheelhouse. We here at RYSI promote a lifestyle of healthy choices and peer support, and Chris Herren’s message of addiction and recovery is powerful and memorable."
Mueller added, "We applaud the multi-faceted work of Community in Crisis to heighten awareness of this epidemic and are honored to be supporters of this event.”
Students at Ridge have also attempted to provide an alternative to drug and alcohol use and abuse through such organizations as Ridge Against Alcohol and Drugs.
Herren’s latest appearance marked the second time that Community in Crisis had supported his visit to Bernards Township. During an evening in December 2015, Herren spoke to a close to capacity audience of parents and children. Its impact left residents and parents hopeful that students at the high school could hear his message during the school day thereby reaching a larger key audience.
Jean O’Connell, Treasurer of Community in Crisis added, “We are grateful to the school district for supporting our goal of bringing Mr. Herren in front of the children. They have become valuable partners in our mission to help this community navigate the opiate epidemic that is gripping the country. Without their help and the dedicated support of so many volunteers in this community, our work would be much more daunting. We urge everyone to join us and be a part of positive change.”
Community in Crisis is a coalition of community agencies, organizations, schools, churches and concerned citizens that is made up of several working groups. For more information or to get involved, please contact Community in Crisis at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.communityincrisis.org.