Toms River, NJ – The year has been a source of inspiration for HOPE Sheds Light (HSL) as it has successfully turned countless challenges into opportunities for so many. The family-focused non-profit organization has offered education, resources, support and hope to anyone impacted by substance use disorder throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. From virtual programming and various outreach efforts to the launch of a new podcast and so much more, HSL is ending the year strong with an abundance of hope and optimism for the year ahead.
“Early on during the first peak of the pandemic, our physical doors were temporarily closed, but we continued to serve the community in whatever capacity we could,” said Pamela Capaci, CEO of HOPE Sheds Light. “In March, we offered daily inspirational messaging on Facebook Live in order to stay emotionally connected to our HSL family during this time of physical distancing.”
The livestreams garnered over 56,000 views over a 16-week period. Due to community need, HSL transitioned the daily livestreams into a podcast. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts, Rise with HOPE delivers experience, strength and hope to the community by exploring what recovery looks like from a variety of perspectives.
During this time, HSL also launched a cloth face covering initiative that provided custom face coverings for the community to purchase. For every purchase made, the non-profit donated a cloth face covering to a frontline worker who provided essential services during the pandemic. The initial offering of face coverings sold out in under two hours. The nonprofit donated cloth face coverings to The Arc Ocean County Chapter, Ocean Mental Health, 21 Plus, Inc. and ShopRite Pharmacy staff in Lacy Township.
HSL’s annual Celebration of HOPE Walk, now in its seventh year, also switched to a virtual platform in light of the pandemic. The event was held in its usual spot on the Hiering Avenue Boardwalk in Seaside Heights on September 12, however instead of thousands circled around the stage, they circled around their computers and mobile devices as they prepared to walk from different locations from state to state.
“Before COVID-19, New Jersey was dealing with the addiction epidemic,” said Capaci. “Since the pandemic, there has been a 20 percent increase in overdose deaths in New Jersey compared to this time last year. This is why we must continue to raise awareness and support those impacted by substance use disorder.”
HSL continued to lead throughout the Fall and Winter months by offering innovative approaches to remain connected and available to anyone in need. “Over the past two years, HSL has been awarded five grants from state and county agencies to assist with our creative programming and reach even more families in need,” said Capaci. “This year, we expanded our focus to work with families and youth by partnering with Ocean County to spend the year developing strategies to bring a recovery high school to our community. We also introduced a 12-month anti-stigma campaign called Recovery Speaks: Embracing the Journey.”
The first Recovery Speaks event was a Fall Wellness Festival held at Keswick Center in October, which included hayrides, volleyball, a pumpkin patch, yoga and onsite vendors. Gregory Andrus from Portraits of the Jersey Shore and Chris Capaci of Capacity Images partnered with HSL to meet with attendees at these events to capture photographs and videos throughout the year. Looking to the Future, HSL will host a Recovery Rally/Family BBQ and Pop-up Drive-in event early 2021.
The year-long initiative will culminate in 2021 with a Share Your Stories event, in partnership with Ocean County, where a pictorial book and mini-documentary will be formally unveiled. “We hope you will join us throughout this initiative to share your stories of hope, provide inspiration and be a part of a movement to celebrate those in recovery,” said Capaci.
HSL’s 2nd Annual Evening of HOPE, originally scheduled on March 27, 2020 was rescheduled for November 13, 2020 as a virtual event and silent online auction. The evening honored Lee Webb and FWH Associates and featured video montages, live raffles, a chef’s demonstration and mission moments. “HSL’s goal through its virtual Evening of HOPE was to honor the many people and corporations who have helped make our work possible and to continue to unite the community and bring awareness to the disease of addiction and the opioid epidemic,” said Capaci.
Following the Evening of HOPE, HSL was honored as The Curchin Group, LLC’s Charity Spotlight. The Curchin Group, LLC highlighted the nonprofit on its Facebook page during the week of November 16 in order to help raise awareness and funds toward HSL’s mission. “We are so grateful to The Curchin Group, LLC, as well as the countless businesses and individuals who have supported HSL in some form throughout the year,” said Capaci. “Every act of kindness is noticed and appreciated.”
All programming and educational efforts during the pandemic’s first wave shifted to virtual with over 230 attendees during the virtual family meetings and 3,250 attendees at other Recovery Center events and virtual activities. In the summer, select programs transitioned to an outdoor setting that allowed for social distancing. HSL has now reverted back to virtual programming as COVID-19 begins to peak again.
Throughout the roller coaster year, HSL has started its Peer Recovery Specialist Internship Training for area professionals and agency volunteers. The program is offered through the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy and satisfies all the New Jersey State requirements to be a Peer Recovery Specialist. HSL is pleased to report that 30 new peer coaches have graduated from the program this year.
In addition to these great achievements, HSL has also welcomed a new Recovery Support Specialist, a Recovery Support Services Coordinator and Program Director to its team – a testament to the great strides it has made thus far. The nonprofit has also partnered with Ocean County College to offer Collegiate Recovery Support Services (funding was provided by the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services). This is the first community college in New Jersey to receive this funding. HSL has also supported 105 individuals through sober living assistance (averaging $300 per person).
Looking to the future, HSL’s goal is to continue to expand its services to young people and families in recovery by offering programming that will engage adolescents and young parents to effectively end the generational cycle of addiction. “2020 has certainly been a challenge and the months ahead may present us with even more obstacles as we address the ongoing health and socioeconomic impact COVID will have on so many families,” said Capaci. “But HSL stands strong, and we will continue to serve anyone in need because that is not only our passion, but our promise to the community.”
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 http://www.HOPEShedsLight.org.