Though the sun was shining, and the message was positive, most attendees would prefer to be just about anywhere else on a Saturday morning.
For the second year in a row, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) has helped the family of one of her constituents who experienced unimaginable personal tragedy turn pain into a positive for the community. Last year, to honor the memory of Billy Reitzig, a 25-year-old Miller Place resident who died as a result of a heroin overdose in April 2016, Bonner and Reitzig’s parents, Bill and Sandy, created Hope Walk for Addiction, an event at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai in which participants came to walk, give and receive support for those struggling with addiction, either personally or someone in their family. On April 21, Bonner and the Reitzig’s were at it again, this time hosting a War on Addiction Rally at the Pennysaver Amphitheater in Farmingville.
“This year the Reitzigs wanted to do something a little bit different — they wanted to have a rally,” Bonner said.
Both she and Bill Reitzig likened the event to a double-edged sword — positive for the feelings of solidarity and support attendees undoubtedly walked away with, but never far from the grief and the wish a rally for hundreds of people to unite against addiction weren’t necessary.
“Looking at the people here we know that everybody’s been touched by this whether it be their child or a friend or a family member,” the councilwoman said. “When we were meeting monthly to help set this up, at every meeting at the end we would say ‘God willing we won’t have to be here next year.’”
The event had another, equally important stated purpose along with support for addicts yearning for recovery and families worried about loved ones. All proceeds raised through donations, raffle tickets and offerings from the dozens of vendors on hand were donated to benefit Hope House Ministries, a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson with other locations on the North Shore that supports people suffering from addiction.
“My son passed away April 22, 2016, and prior to that there weren’t some of these groups that are here today like FIST, Families in Support of Treatment, because while he was going through Hell, in all honesty, with addiction and struggling and trying to get better, we as a family needed support,” Reitzig said. “Some of those groups weren’t available then, and since he passed away I’ve met so many nice people. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s kind of like, ‘I wish I didn’t know you, and I wish I didn’t get to meet you today.’ But you know what, my wife and I decided not to bury our heads in the sand and to come out and try to make a difference with donations. We’re just trying to give back and, I don’t know, I think I get the strength from my son in order to be able to help and try to make a difference.”
Bonner said the shift from a more somber event in 2017 to a rally this year should signal a breaking down of the stigma of addiction and empower people suffering themselves or from watching a loved one struggle to reach out for support.
“I think I get the strength from my son in order to be able to help and try to make a difference.”
— Bill Reitzig
“If we can continue to chip away at that, I think more recovery and more help will evolve from that,” she said. “We all share the feeling, that shame and embarrassment is becoming less because so many more have been affected. So I don’t know if it’s a natural progression. Whatever the reason is for it, it can only help.”
Reitzig said he also hoped a byproduct of the rally would be for people to sign a petition asking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to spearhead legislation that would mandate evidence-based substance abuse educational programs in every school statewide and urged people to question doctors when prescribed pain medication.
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) shared a similar sentiment when asked what he hoped attendees would take away from the rally.
“We want to tell people there is hope, you can take back your life, you can take back control of your life,” he said.
The rally raised about $45,000 for Hope House Ministries, up from the walk in 2017 which yielded about $34,000, according to Bonner. About 1,000 people attended the Saturday morning into afternoon event. For more information about the Reitzig’s cause or to donate visit www.waronaddictionrally.com.