Drug awareness event returns to Salem Saturday

— WHAT: Sixth Annual Steps of Change

— WHEN: Noon to 4:15 p.m. Saturday

— WHERE: Salem Community Center

— SPONSOR: Ohio CAN Change Addiction Now

— WHY: To raise awareness of addiction, highlight resources for help and remember those lost

SALEM–Names and familiar faces attached to countless pairs of shoes — that’s the stark reminder of lives lost to addiction that Salem resident Brenda Hamilton wants people to see.

As one of the organizers of the Sixth Annual Steps of Change awareness event planned from noon to 4:15 p.m. Saturday in the gym at the Salem Community Center, this year she’s matching up photographs with the shoes of the people they represent for the shoe ceremony and 1-mile memorial walk.

Since 2014 when she held the first Steps of Change, she’s collected 10 totes filled with shoes, with one pair for every person who has died from an overdose in Columbiana County. There’s a pair for a 15-year-old who died in 2014 and a pair for a 17-year-old who died in 2018. The shoes represent people both young and old from all walks of life.

This year she’s adding 38 pairs of shoes for all the people who died from overdoses in the county between April last year and May 1 this year.

She said she recently set up a display with just some of the shoes, 72 pairs, along with some photographs attached, for a Columbiana County Drug Task Force program at United High School. That sent a powerful message to students, causing some tears to be shed. She said a few of them recognized people they knew in the photos.

“I’m going to make sure the names and the faces are remembered,” Hamilton said.

She started adding the photos to the shoes last fall. She knew a lot of the people and was asked by someone if she remembered what they looked like. That’s when she searched for all the photos she could find. When the memorial walk and shoe ceremony honoring deceased loved ones begins at 12:50 p.m., the photos will be there.

“It is so heartbreaking. This week always takes a toll,” she said.

Hamilton has been involved since the beginning and serves as president of Ohio CAN Change Addiction Now and as the county coordinator. The organization serves as a resource for families, to help them find services they need and that their loved ones need for recovery, besides serving as a means to get the word out about addiction, the toll it takes on families and that help is available. A native of East Palestine, she said her hometown has taken a huge hit this past year and she knew so many of them.

But as much as the group wants to remember those lost, the biggest message is that help is out there and everybody’s welcome to the event. Hamilton said there are still so many people suffering in silence and worried about what people will think. She urged them to come, saying they may meet someone at this event that can talk to them and relate to what they’re going through. Hamilton knows what it’s like for family members of people who are addicted and urged anyone who needs help to come to this event and seek her out. People who need help with their own addiction can come, too.

“I will point them in the direction they need,” she said of anyone who needs help.

Steps of Change kicks off at noon with resource tables people can visit and training with the overdose reversal drug Narcan. People can get the training and take the Narcan with them. Salem Mayor John Berlin will give the official welcome at 12:45 p.m., followed by the memorial walk and shoe ceremony, then a new feature will begin at 2 p.m. with a skit by The Improbable Players on Substance Use and Family Dynamics. The touring group is from Cleveland.

According to the schedule, the group is a non-profit “dedicated to helping communities to combat substance-use disorders. Their work is accomplished through skits and short plays followed by dialogue with their audiences. The performers are all people in recovery.”

Recovery stories of local residents will begin at 3 p.m., along with a presentation by the DTF and how the community can support its efforts. There will be a basket raffle, a lunch available for $5 for a hot dog, chips, cookie and a drink and the event will finish up with a butterfly release.

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