People affected by substance abuse used stories and songs to advocate for community awareness about the issue.
“We’re not here to tell you how to live,” said Douglas Darby. “We’re here to ask you to not walk down the same path.”
Darby, co-founder of Rise Together, was among those who spoke to students, parents and community members Wednesday, Dec. 17, at Weyauwega-Fremont High School.
The school district sponsored three presentations that day, including one for middle school students, another for high school students and a final one in the evening for the public.
Donations from businesses and community members covered the cost of it.
District Administrator Scott Bleck said members of the school’s leadership team attended last month’s summit in Manawa about heroin.
“They felt empowered to bring part of that message to the community,” he said.
Member of Rise Together, a recovery advocacy group in Appleton which believes in prevention, education and community outreach, were part of that summit.
Since Darby and Anthony Alvarado started the organization in September 2013, they have spoken to thousands of students throughout Wisconsin.
Both are in long-term recovery and seek to break the stigma tied to heroin addiction.
Alvarado said the trends related to the abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs and heroin are disturbing.
“Education and awareness are key,” he said. “We want to teach you how you can make a difference.”
Alvarado urged the students and community members to get involved with Rise Together or with a group in their own backyard.
“Addiction hits people on every level,” he said. “Every 15 minutes, we lose someone to addiction.”
Brigette Henschel knows about loss.
“I’m glad you’re all here today,” she said.
Henschel told the students she brought her daughter, Amalia, with her and then placed a wooden box on the table next to the podium.
“I brought her here, because I want everyone to know the consequences of using drugs,” Henschel said.
“The worst day of our lives happened on April 12, 2012.
Amalia died of a heroin overdose that day. She was 21.
Henschel described her daughter as beautiful, full of life and at the beginning of her adult life.
She talked about she and her husband moved their family to Waushara County 16 years ago with dreams of living in a quiet community.
Amalia was 8 at the time.
Growing up, she played volleyball, basketball and softball, got good grades and had lots of friends.
“She was your typical all-American girl that every parent would be proud to have as their daughter,” Henschel said. “Between her sophomore and junior year of high school, things started a change a little.”
Amalia stopped playing sports. Her interests changed to music, poetry and photography.
Her friends also changed but seemed nice.
“The continued to get good grades. As parents, we thought everything was OK,” Henschel said.
During her senior year of high school, Amalia also took classes at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley.
“It looked like she was heading down the right path in her life. I want you to listen so the last three years of Amalia’s life don’t sound anything like the next three years of your life, because bad choices resulted in the end of her life,” Henschel told the students.
She said that after her first year of college, Amalia seemed to lack motivation about her classes and her direction in life.
“We gave her space to figure things out,” Henschel said.
They knew Amalia was doing some partying.
“But what we didn’t know was the type of partying,” Henschel said.
They started finding marijuana on her and then medications, for which she did not have prescriptions.
They expressed their concerns and offered to help her.
“She blew it off. The problem continued to get worse,” Henschel said. “In the fall of 2011, my husband and I did an intervention.”
Amalia attended treatment, completing it in January 2012.
Her family thought she was heading in the right direction.
Henschel said addiction is a hard disease to overcome and when Amalia left on April 11, 2012 to hang out with an old girlfriend, her parents did not know her friend was working until 11 p.m.
They did not know she was meeting a “so-called friend” they did not know, the person who gave her heroin.
Amalia was found dead, not far from a bar in Redgranite.
“We loved Amalia very much, and I know your parents love you very much and your brothers and sisters, even though they don’t tell you all the time or show you all the time,” Henschel said. “Think of them when you think of using drugs.”
Henschel said when her daughter tried marijuana for the first time, she probably did not think she would go on to abuse prescription drugs and then heroin and then die.
“Heroin can kill you the very first time you use it,” Henschel said. “If you choose to use drugs, it can and it will end your life. Why take that chance?”