Walkers participate in the 8th Annual Celebration of HOPE Walk on the Seaside Heights Boardwalk that was held on September 11, 2021. (Photo provided)
Community Submitted Content and Photos
“We will never stop speaking out loud against stigma at every turn,” said Steve Willis, Co-founder of HOPE Sheds Light (HSL) at the nonprofit’s annual Celebration of HOPE Walk held on the Seaside Heights boardwalk on September 11, 2021.
Nearly 2,000 walkers in HSL’s signature yellow “Find HOPE” shirts assembled on the boardwalk for its eighth year – each person renewed with hope, faith and love as inspiration resonated from the stage.
At the Celebration of HOPE Walk, hosted by HSL, the community came together to learn about substance use disorder, celebrate recovery and provide hope to those affected. “Those impacted by substance use disorder typically don’t know where to turn for help,” said Pamela Capaci, CEO of HSL. “Our walk offers them a community of support.”
After opening with a moment of silence for all those lost and impacted by the tragic events that occurred 20 years ago on September 11, 2001, the day began with a host of dignitaries and guest speakers who have been impacted by HSL.
Ben Giovine, District Director for Congressman Andy Kim, was the first to say a few words after the opening prayer. “We know the most important thing is for us is to be here together as a community to fight together alongside with our county commissioners, the prosecutor and organizations like HSL,” he said. “Our office stands shoulder to shoulder with HSL to do that outreach and have those conversations.”
Ocean County Commissioners Virginia “Ginny” Haines and Gary Quinn took to the podium next and relayed their gratitude to the nonprofit for tirelessly serving the community since its inception in 2013.
“Over the last 18 months, we have seen a lot of tragedy in the county,” said Commissioner Quinn. “Addiction has gone up… we’ve seen a lot of mental illness issues. Knowing that groups like this exist and Ron, Arvo and Steve work so diligently daily doing everything they can to help people really puts us at ease knowing that in the future we will be able to get more of a handle on things coming out of the pandemic. It’s just amazing the friendship that has been built over these eight years with these three men and how it’s unfortunate it was such a sad situation that brought them all together. But out of that look what they built, look what they’ve done and look at how much they are given back to the county.”
Among its many longtime supporters, HSL is a trusted community partner with the Ocean County’s Prosecutor’s office.
“If you lost someone in your family, if you’ve known someone, which we all have, we are here to support you,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer. “This organization has done so much to work with us to reimagine and redefine law enforcement’s approach to the substance use disorder. This is something that Ocean County has struggled with for years and we are all about finding the best ways to find support.”
At the event, HSL announced its 2021 top fundraising teams are as follows: Tied in first place was Team Kenny, led by Lynn Haberman, and Stepping up for Sabrina, led by Diane Simmons. In second place was FWH Associates, led by Chris Rosati.
Looking to the future, Willis said that above all else, HSL will make sure it will always remain mission driven in its decision to serve the community. “I am really very proud of that,” he said. “HOPE’s growth means that more and more people each day are being served with love and encouraged and coached toward recovery. This coming year will be particularly exciting to know that we have merged with Recovery Advocates for the Shore, Inc. (RAFTS), making us one organization under the same umbrella and expand all our services into Monmouth County. HSL is just a wonderful, extraordinary combination of faith, hope and love. It is the peer driven shared experience and exchange of ideas that makes HSL so special.”
About HOPE Sheds Light, Inc.
HOPE Sheds Light, Inc. is an IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (Tax ID: 46-3910504) that is supported by friends and families directly affected by substance use disorder and found recovery through continuous love, support and understanding.
The mission of HSL is to raise awareness and educate individuals, families and the community about the impact of substance use disorder by having the courage to share personal experiences and offer strength, wisdom, hope and resources that lead to positive community change and long-term recovery.
To learn more or to donate, please visit HOPEShedsLight.org.