NORTH ADAMS -- Dozens of candles lit up Noel Field Thursday night -- symbols of a community fighting a recent increase in drug abuse and addiction.
The first annual Vigil of Healing and Remembrance, held by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's nb21 program, was held to educate the public about addiction and the recovery process and to act as a time of healing for those who have lost loved ones to drug addiction.
The event was about "raising community awareness," according to Lois Daunis, nb21 coordinator and vigil organizer, and about "helping people get the resources they need to get into recovery."
Pamphlets about finding help for addiction were available, and attendees were also encouraged to write messages to loved ones on Chinese lanterns.
The vigil was also a time of reflection.
"It is one way that we can help people who have lost someone [to addiction]," Daunis said.
PHOTO GALLERY | Vigil of Hope and Remembrance
The coalition invited people to speak who deal with substance abuse, in many ways, on a daily basis.
Rebecca Dodge, the founder of the Have Hope Initiative and a former drug addict, told her story.
"I lost it all. My morals, values, and most of all my daughter," Dodge said. "Thankfully my rock bottom saved me."
Dodge shared her experience as an addict and her path to overcoming her addiction and eventually founding the Have Hope Initiative. The initiative was created to support and educate addicts and their families.
"To the addict who thinks there is no hope, there is," Dodge said. "The road to recovery never ends, but the beautiful places it will take you are endless."
Michelle Slater, also a recovering addict, told the crowd of nearly 100 people that "there really is a better way to live."
Police Director Michael Cozzaglio spoke about the issue from the perspective of law enforcement.
"We seem to be losing it sometimes. We just can't keep up with it," Cozzaglio said. "We're all here to try to remember these unfortunate victims of drug addiction and pool our collective thoughts to ... increase awareness."
Cozzaglio said the police department, that day, had seized more than 400 prescription pills from a home in North Adams.
"None of us are naive enough to think we got ‘the' drug dealer," he said, "because there are plenty of them in waiting."
Cozzaglio recommended that the community take a proactive approach, at the family level, to stop drug addiction before it starts. He also encouraged residents to reach out to the department.
"Local law enforcement is really trying to help," Daunis said.
Mayor Richard Alcombright -- who Daunis praised for his support of the coalition's initiatives -- declared Oct. 24 "North Adams Recovery Day."
Alcombright commended local organizations that are working to address the issue of drug addiction.
"I am your friend," Alcombright said. "My ears and my shoulders are there for you."
The Rev. David Anderson, pastor of the First Baptist Church, closed out the vigil.
"The flow of drugs is always going to be there, but let you and I dare to dream tonight to change the culture of our city," Anderson said.
There were 60 similar events in 21 states and two countries on Thursday, Daunis said.
The idea for the event grew out of the coalition's September 2012 community needs assessment forum.
The community's message was clear: Addiction is a worsening problem in northern Berkshire County that needs to be addressed, Daunis said. The coalition then held a forum in November to further address concerns about drugs. A work group of about 25 people put together Thursday's vigil.
Daunis said the November forum had an "unprecedented attendance" of 120 people, well above the average of 80.
"[People] are also looking for a community of folks to support each other in these difficult times," Daunis said.
To reach Adam Shanks, e-mail email@example.com.