New Paltz festival celebrates addiction recovery and hope

The Town of New Paltz will hold its first annual “Recovery Fest” — a free community event to celebrate and elevate recovery from substance use disorders and addiction on Saturday, September 9 in Hasbrouck Park. Pictured left to right. Chuck Bordino, New Paltz Recreation Director; Phoenix Kawamoto, Director of the New Paltz Community Partnership; Andrew Vlad, Assistant Director of the New Paltz Youth Program; Neil Bettez, New Paltz Town Supervisor and 14-year-old Kayla Newman, participant in the New Paltz Youth Program. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Town of New Paltz will hold a new event at Hasbrouck Park on Saturday, September 9 from noon to 4 p.m. Recovery Fest, a free community event open to all, will feature live music, guest speakers, a free barbecue, information tables, a community kickball game and fun activities for kids, including face-painting and a bouncy house. (The rain date is Sunday, September 10.)

Recovery Fest is intended to celebrate recovery from substance use addiction and offer resources to support those who may not know where to turn. “We’re working together to reduce the shame and stigma that often accompanies the disease of addiction, while honoring the courage, contributions and hope that abounds within the recovery community,” says Phoenix Kawamoto, Director of the New Paltz Community Partnership. “The goal of the day is to make it a community celebration of hope and recovery, and the ways in which folks in recovery are valuable to their community.”

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People who have “come through the fire,” as she puts it, “bring a wealth of skills and experiences, because addiction is an equal opportunity disease. And many people in recovery are not only actively engaged in reaching out and helping other people with their addictions, but they’ve reconnected with their passions. A lot of them do a tremendous amount of volunteer work and become very actively involved in different settings. They become passionate leaders, committed to making a difference in their community and being of service.”

Everybody involved in Recovery Fest is donating their time and talents. An opening ceremony at noon will be followed by live music from Wind & Stone’s Jim Hession and Krisha Stoever. At 1 p.m., speakers from Voices of Recovery will talk about their own experiences. The remainder of the afternoon will include a number of live music and spoken word performers, including Conjugal Visit, Lapdogs, John Holt and Hallow Dog, Big Sister’s Wex, Shell and Lara, Victoria Levy and Carl Welden, who will also serve as emcee and provide audio services.

A free barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers will be offered from noon to 2 p.m., with food provided by the Bruderhof Woodcrest Community. After lunch, everyone is welcome to participate in a community kickball game at 2 p.m., organized by the town recreation department.

The New Paltz Youth Program’s Jim Tinger and his cadre of teen volunteers will provide face-painting and games for kids throughout the day, and assist with the barbecue cooking. They’re also bringing the bouncy house. Tablers with information and resources to offer will be on hand, including Family Service’s Family Advocate Program, Samaritan Village, Step One, SUNY Ulster, the Villa Veritas Foundation and many more.

Saugerties held a similar event over the weekend of August 19-20: the “Hope Rocks Festival.” But while the planned Recovery Fest also features live music, speakers on addiction recovery and community activities, the New Paltz event was conceived of independently, says Kawamoto; just an example of synchronicity and two minds facing the same situation coming up with similar ideas.

On her part, she says, “September is the annual Recovery Month. I used to manage a drug-free-communities grant project for the area served by the New Paltz [Central] School District, and we did a number of Recovery Month events each September during the course of that five-year project. So earlier this year, when I thought, ‘Let’s have a Recovery Fest in September and celebrate hope and recovery,’ little did I know that Joe Defino in Saugerties — who I know well and I’ve actually worked with before — was coordinating ‘Hope Rocks.’”

Defino, a special education teacher, told Saugerties Times reporter Crispin Kott that he organized the Hope Rocks event after attending the funeral of a former student who died from an overdose four years ago. “And since that time I’ve attended funerals or memorial services of ten more. I’m up to eleven students; kids that I taught in my little town in our little elementary school that have died an unnatural death due to an opioid addiction or suicide.”

Kawamoto notes that festivals like Hope Rocks and the planned Recovery Fest “are a very new concept for people.” She emphasizes that it’s really about community, creating a supportive environment where people come together, not about recommending a particular 12-step program or treatment. “We’ll have a number of speakers who are in long-term recovery, but the people who are participating are sharing their own stories of hope, not speaking as someone with a particular affiliation.”

An event like Recovery Fest also increases awareness of what’s behind the rising opioid epidemic, shifting perceptions and helping people understand that addiction is really a brain disease, she says. “I think people really need to understand that addiction is a dynamic taking place on a neurobiological level.”

Those in recovery are dealing with “a culture of shame,” she adds. “And the shame associated with recovery from drug addiction is a major barrier for people. It directly impacts employment and all other aspects of someone’s life. If somebody has had a previous negative experience with an addicted person, that tends to get projected onto others.”

Recovery Fest is made possible through donations by the Town of New Paltz, New Paltz Youth Program, Greater New Paltz Community Partnership, the Village of New Paltz, Bruderhof Woodcrest Community, CHBO Drums, Imperial Guitar & Soundworks and Villa Veritas Foundation, a Kerhonkson-based rehabilitation center that takes a holistic approach to the healthcare practices it employs in the treatment of addiction.

More information will be available on the event Facebook page at “Town of New Paltz Recovery Fest.” Email questions to Phoenix Kawamoto at pkawamoto@townofnewpaltz.org or call (845) 256-5140.