MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Lauren Privitera lost her son, Nicholas, to a heroin overdose on Feb. 8, 2015. He was just 23 years old.
Since then, Privitera has sought to end the scourge of the opiate addiction epidemic that has gripped the country over the past decade by shining a light on the problem and removing the stigma often attached to the illness.
Friday, Aug. 31, marked the third year Privitera has helped lead the Hope and Healing Candlelight Memorial in Chamber Park in downtown Mahopac, an event that traditionally features guest speakers, a slideshow of those lost to addiction, a candle-lighting ceremony and more. The ceremony is held each year on Aug. 31 in conjunction with International Overdose Awareness Day. This year the event included the dedication of a “serenity bench” that can be found near the back of the park
“We wanted to create a serenity space in the Chamber Park,” said Doreen Lockwood of the Putnam County Friends of Recovery advocacy group. “The Recreation Department and the town of Carmel have been so supportive of our efforts, so Lauren’s family has dedicated this bench in Nick’s name and we have a rock here with the Serenity Prayer on it. We hope that people in our community will come and use this space and remember their loved ones, talk to their sponsors, reflect with their friends—just have a place of hope and healing.”
The event drew an array of local dignitaries and elected officials for the bench dedication’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, including county legislators Carl Albano and Toni Addonizio; state Assemblyman Kevin Byrne; town Supervisor Ken Schmitt; Councilwoman Suzi McDonough; and Joe DeMarzo, deputy commissioner for the county Department of Social Services, Mental Health, and the Youth Bureau.
“Dedicating this table is a wonderful thing; it’s a beautiful thing you do for the community,” Schmitt said. “We support your mission and the town of Carmel will always be here for you, whatever you need. We are going to cross that finish line. It’s a full-court press to eradicate this opioid problem that we have. We can only do it working together as a team. Because of your efforts, we are going to win that battle. We don’t want to lose any more members of this community. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
DeMarzo said events such as the Hope and Healing Candlelight Memorial are “bittersweet.”
“We take terrible situations and put them into a positive [light],” DeMarzo said. “I think it is the resiliency of this community; people who during difficult times rise above. It breaks my heart but I applaud what you do.”
Guest speakers included Lockwood, who talked about the stigma connected to drug addiction and laid out the many resources available to addicts and their families. Caitee Donovan gave an emotional speech about her mother, who died of an overdose when Donovan was just 8 years old. Jim Keyes and Carla Lynne Hall provided the musical backdrop for the event.
The evening concluded when participants gave personal tributes, going before the crowd and speaking about a lost relative or friend and then lighting candles in their memory, which illuminated the Chamber Park field surrounding the gazebo.