Saugerties initiative combating addiction and suicide adds more events

While Saugerties organizers continue planning for the third annual Hope Rocks Festival this August, two new Hope Rocks events are planned for early next month: The Hope Rocks Hardball Invitational, a high school baseball tournament on May 4; and the Hope Rocks Grand Gala, a fundraising event on May 10 with a focus on the Hope Rocks mission: To “illuminate the darkness of addiction and suicide.” 

Might a high-school baseball tournament seem an incongruous setting for that mission? Group founder Joe Defino said that’s kind of the point. 

“What Hope Rocks is all about is creating events, programs, activities that are not traditionally associated with providing information about suicide and addiction,” Defino said. “Creating an event around a baseball tournament that features music, food, features service providers that work in the field of mental health and addiction, all as sideline ancillary attractions beside the baseball games. There will be people there that may not normally reach out for that information in another kind of setting. This can take the stigma away, make it non-traditional, and kind of lay it out for people to take information as they wish.”

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Scheduled for a week from Saturday, May 4 at Cantine Field, the Hope Rocks Hardball Invitational was initiated by high school psychologist Michael Pugliese, who also coaches the school’s varsity baseball team. 

“Any event that facilitates the Hope Rocks mission is obviously a good thing,” said Pugliese in a press release. “But also it is really important that our players understand their ability to help and influence change in society. We are using a great day of baseball at the greatest facilities in the state bringing in eight different communities to use baseball as a platform for a great cause. It just doesn’t get much better.”

The home team will open the event by taking on Gloversville. Other first-round matchups include Kingston against Shenendehowa, Pine Plains against Chatham, and Chester against Saratoga Catholic. 

“These are teams that frequently end up playing each other in intersectional play as they move down the line toward the state championships,” explained Defino this week. “It’s really a neat collection of teams.”

On Friday, May 10, the Hope Rocks Grand Gala, a black-tie-optional event, will take place at Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern, and will feature music, both live and silent auctions, presentations and awards, and information on what Hope Rocks is all about. 

“That is very different from anything we’ve done before because it’s a fundraising entity,” said Defino. “We want to conduct it in Hope Rocks fashion, meaning music at the centerpiece, good food. This event allows us to reach out to people we normally wouldn’t reach out to to let them know what we’re all about. I’m sure they’ve heard about us, or if they haven’t heard about us they will hear about us. And for some of these people, they’re donors and benefactors, but the idea is to reach a different level of an audience while raising money so that we can continue to do these events and put on these events for the community.”

The Hope Rocks Grand Gala will be an alcohol-free event out of respect for those who struggle with addiction. 

“It’s very important to us that we appeal to the individuals that have battled this battle,” Defino said. “Rather than creating an environment where it could be misconstrued that alcohol is needed for a good time, the good time is going to be had by your presence and what takes place. It doesn’t need to be enhanced by any other substances. And I think that’s a huge piece of information that I’ve learned in working closely with those people in recovery, whether it’s drug or alcohol recovery. It can’t be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation. It has to be a ‘we’ situation. We don’t want to create a dividing line.”

The Hope Rocks festival was founded in 2017 as a free two-day event at the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex, bringing together live music and addiction awareness. It grew out of Morse Rocks, which for five years highlighted the musical talents of local kids. 

“It’s kind of inspiration from desperation,” said Defino, the founder of Morse Rocks and a longtime special education teacher at Grant D. Morse Elementary. He’s also academic advisor for the school’s newspaper and news website Just Print It.
“I am a teacher, and four years ago I attended my first former student’s funeral as a result of an overdose,” said Defino. “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.”

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 44,000 people in the country die by suicide each year, with a reported 25 times as many attempting suicide. And according to a 2015 reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid addiction and related deaths are also on the rise in the United States, with around 91 deaths daily due to heroin, prescription and non-prescription opioids.

Hope Rocks hopes to bring people together to celebrate community and let people who are suffering know they’re not alone. Defino said the Hope Rocks Festival, scheduled for August 17-18, will continue to build. “As the festival continues to evolve, we as event creators or festival organizers, we’re learning how to maximize not only the footprint that we have at Cantine, but the number of people that come through,” he said. 

For information on the Hope Rocks mission and events, visit www.hoperocksny.com.