Whether we think we personally know people affected by it or not, it’s impossible these days to avoid hearing the subject of the “opioid crisis” raised again and again. The Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, who made a fortune promoting the reckless overprescription and overuse of OxyContin, have been put out of business in a $3 billion settlement; but the damage has already been done. Far too many Americans got a taste of sweet oblivion when opioids were all-too-easily available and found it difficult if not impossible to come back to living without them – often at great cost to their health, families and careers.
Fortunately, a medical and social services infrastructure that specializes in helping people overcome addictions has been developing over many decades. And although it’s still woefully underfunded, that network of dedicated professionals has enjoyed a high relative rate of success. Without realizing it, perhaps, you undoubtedly do know people who are thriving today, despite having struggled with chemical dependencies in the past. Reintegrating them into society to the point where the darker side of their personal history isn’t obvious, unless they choose to share it with people they trust, is a big part of the goal.
Here in Ulster County, “We have a network of practitioners working extremely hard, and working together,” to aid in that transition back to normalcy for people who have suffered from addictions. “There’s a strong commitment to collaboration.” So says Phoenix Kawamoto, head of the Office for Community Wellness in New Paltz, who is currently very busy organizing a free event at the Field of Dreams called Recovery Fest, to be held on the afternoon of Sunday, September 19.
Described as “a day of fun, support and honoring the journey of recovery from substance use and opioid use disorders,” the annual festival is back for the fourth time this year. “We paused during COVID and had three before that. It’s always the third Sunday of September,” Kawamoto says. “Each year it continues to grow.”
That couldn’t happen without plenty of collaborators, though; as Kawamoto notes, “I have very limited resources in everything I do through the Town.” The primary co-sponsors of the event are Step One Child and Family Guidance Center Addiction Services, Inc., which provides family-oriented treatment for chemical dependence at sites in Highland, Ellenville, Lake Katrine and Kingston; and the Ulster Prevention Council, a Kingston-based program of Family Services, Inc. that provides evidence-based substance use prevention workshops in Ulster County schools, agencies and the community.
On the local front, the New Paltz Youth Program (NPYP) has for years partnered closely with the Office for Community Wellness to organize fun, healthy, drug-and-alcohol-free activities for young people, such as New Paltz Eve, Holiday Hoopla and the Youth Center’s Halloween Haunted House. Kawamoto brims with praise for the NPYP volunteers and their leader, Jim Tinger: “They’re phenomenal. Jim will be manning the grill and I’ll be doing the popcorn.”
A free barbecue is one of the big attractions of Recovery Fest, along with music provided by DJ Jay Smooth. There will be a drum circle at 1 p.m. and plenty of activities for kids, including a bounce house, face-painting by SUNY New Paltz student volunteers, a “rainbow sprinkler” if it’s a hot enough day, plus lots of outdoor games, including Kan Jam, badminton, kickball and cornhole.
A brand-new collaborator is Joe Defino, organizer of the annual Hope Rocks music festival that just happened in August at Cantine Field in Saugerties. Kawamoto explains that one of Defino’s projects to help former addicts relaunch their careers is a mobile free clothing store called Jordan’s Closet; it’ll be putting in an appearance at Recovery Fest. “They do great work, and we’re excited that we’re partnering with them! This is their first year with us.”
Arguably the most crucial volunteers on hand will be the various wellness practitioners who will be providing free tastes of therapeutic modalities such as “trauma-informed” yoga, reiki, acupuncture and music therapy. A variety of treatment providers will offer information on their range of services: useful resources for people with chemical dependency issues and their loved ones who are beginning to explore their options or have questions about how to take the next steps toward a healthier life. A couple of speakers who are in recovery are slated to give inspirational talks, and Narcan training will also be available.
This upbeat event is primarily meant to celebrate the potential for a joyful life post-addiction, and honor all who have made (or are still making) that difficult journey. Kawamoto is quick to point out, though, that all are welcome, no questions asked, regardless of where they fall on the recovery spectrum: “It’s open to all – definitely a safe space.”
The fourth annual Recovery Fest takes place from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 19 at the Field of Dreams, located at 241 Libertyville Road in New Paltz. Ample free parking is available at the adjacent Ulster County Fairgrounds lot.