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Shelter Island remembers those lost to addiction: Continues fight against substance abuse

As the sun set, giving way to a sliver of a moon hanging in the sky Wednesday night, Aug. 31, an occasional sparkle of handheld lights gave way to a sea of light.

The healing lilt of an original song from Julia King soothed the hearts and souls of the more than 100 Islanders gathered on the Bateman road basketball court. They came to mourn the loss of family members and friends lost to overdoses and to give hope to those struggling with substance abuse that help is available.

There were tears, prayers, praises and embraces throughout the Candlelight Vigil of Hope marking International Overdose Awareness Day.

Through tears, Gina Kraus spoke about her son, Evan, who succumbed to a drug overdose in March 2020. “When you lose someone, especially a child, you’re broken,” she said, and thanked friends and family for the love they’ve shown helping her to deal with her pain. “I cling to hope,” Ms. Kraus said. “Hope is what gets us through.”

Emily Kraus said losing her husband Evan was the most powerful experience she’s ever had.

You want to reach out and save them, she added, of those who battle substance abuse. “This disease does not discriminate,” she said. Since her loss, she said she’s learned the importance of sharing her story to help others. “The road is not to be walked alone,” Emily Kraus said. “We may move forward, but we never move on.”

“That is a sign of courage and of strength,” said Councilman Jim Colligan about Emily’s words.

These are not numbers, but people who were sons, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers, friends, said Rev. Dr. Steve Adkison, pastor of Shelter Island Presbyterian Church.

He appealed to the community to bring something good out of the tragedies, encouraging hope and support for those struggling with addiction to seek help without fear or guilt.

“This type of loss impacts everyone,” said Lauren McNamara, a co-founder of New Hope Rising in Westhampton Beach, an organization that has helped to lead those involved with substance abuse to lives of dignity, and assists families to cope with the ways they are affected.

Marty Clark, a Shelter Island graduate who now operates his own business, identified himself as an alcoholic and addict in recovery. He grew up in the community drinking, getting high and being arrested numerous times.

That he chose to acknowledge his past may have been concerning, but he said if the multiple times his name appeared in the police blotter didn’t embarrass him, admitting his past now that he fights for his recovery should not.

He credits Alcoholics Anonymous with helping him in his recovery, but said it took six years for him to truly embrace the program. He dates his current recovery to Nov. 13, 2009.

“AA has given me a new life,” he said. “There’s hope. You can recover.”

Steve Sachs, a licensed social worker and credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor, said he grew up in an addictive family and lost a relative to substance abuse after his cousin returned from Vietnam.

He spoke about how he learned that he had to put his own self care ahead of others as he came to realize you can’t control others.

Steve Sachs, a licensed social worker and credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor, speaking to the gathering. (Credit: Jim Colligan)

Drew Harvey, founder of Dawgpatch Bandits in Sag Harbor, credited the Shelter Island community — the government, the school district and the people — with their willingness to shine a light on the problem of addiction. Many communities try to ignore the problem, he said.

His organization supports people struggling with addiction using physical fitness as a tool for addicts to recover their lives. The group works to promote awareness of substance abuse.

“If you know somebody struggling, push them into positive outlets,” he said.

Mr. Colligan ended the vigil, stressing the need for people to return spiritualism to their lives. He said prayer has seen him through difficult times in his life. “When you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, are you satisfied with yourself?”

The event was sponsored by the Town, the Shelter Island School District, the Shelter Island Library, the Shelter Island Health and Wellness Alliance and HUGS, Inc. — Human Understanding & Growth Services, a State-licensed agency under the Office of Addiction Services, working with individuals and families to reduce high-risk behavior and foster wellness and positive attitudes in all areas of life.

Community resources — Where to find help

Lucille Buergers, LCSW, Shelter Island Town Social Worker, [email protected], 631-749-8807.

Steve Sacks, LMSW, Addiction Intervention Services, [email protected], 516-430-0833.

AA Meetings, Monday-Friday at 7 a.m., Wednesday, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 26 St. Mary’s Road. 866-641-9190.

New Hope Rising

64 Old Riverhead Road in Westhampton Beach, newhoperisingny.org, 631-336-9990

Dawgpatch Bandits

21 Cove Road, Sag Harbor. dawgpatchbandits.com, 631-830-5277

HUGS (Human Understanding & Growth Services), 108 Mill Road, Westhampton Beach. hugsinc.org, 631- 288-9505

Response Crisis 24/7 Hotline of Suffolk County 631-751-7500

National Resources

SAMHSA Helpline ((Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) — 800-662-HELP

Suicide and Crisis Lifeline — Phone 988, 24/7, toll-free support for those suffering severe emotional distress.