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FAN’s annual fall fundraiser raises more than $260,000

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published October 15, 2019

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FRASER/STERLING HEIGHTS — Families Against Narcotics’ annual Fall Fest event was a display of community in combating both addiction and the stigma around it.

The eighth annual event, held Oct. 8 at Penna’s of Sterling, saw upward of 1,000 attendees. Kelly Nahas, director of operations for FAN, said the total gross funds accumulated — which included sponsorships, ticket sales, auction items and general donations — totaled about $267,000.

A portion of the evening, called “Fund the Need,” raised a whopping $43,000 in just 10 minutes. Nahas said last year’s event raised about $223,000, while the “Fund the Need” portion raised about $30,000.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdoses killed approximately 72,000 Americans in 2018. That is a higher annual death toll than deaths from HIV, car crashes or gun fatalities in their peak years.

FAN Executive Director Linda Davis said the first Fall Fest event had about 300 attendees. Money raised from this event helps keep the operation intact, paying for services that she said are continually needed because more and more people are being affected by addiction.

This involves not only addicts themselves, or even the family and friends closes to them, but also society as a whole. She said education on the subject is integral, even when people are not affected by it personally or by proxy.

“I don’t know how we reach parents to say, ‘This can happen to you,’” she said.

Part of that includes limiting sensationalism in terms of media coverage, she added. A positive story about an addict who’s living a fulfilling life in recovery can lose its intent when images of addicts laying in streets, with needles in their arms, are strewn about TV and social media.

Pertaining to the stigma of addiction, she used the analogy of how every CEO of a major hospital would react if it was his or her child dying at the hands of addiction. She said nobody will attack a person for having cancer, even if they smoked cigarettes for decades. Or nobody will question national funding for causes like fighting Ebola — a disease that affects hardly anybody domestically — like they will for lifesaving medications like Narcan.

“We’ve got to quit playing God with people in our judgments,” Davis said.

Denise Ilitch was the event’s guest speaker. Davis said she knew Ilitch had her own personal story, but she waited for her to be ready to tell it. It’s part of the grieving process. But when people like Iitch and Detroit Red Wings announcer Ken Daniels are able to discuss the “silent epidemic” without being ashamed of it, it aids the entire effort.

“The message is that there really is hope in recovery,” Davis said. “People can live normal lives aside from being that guy under the bridge. They didn’t start that way.”

Jeremiah Campbell, 33, was the event emcee. He was one of FAN’s original members, before it was even called that. He was at the very first meeting back in 2007.

“At that point, it was confused, hurt, upset parents and people in recovery trying to come up with a solution,” Campbell said. “There was no real plan of action.”

Campbell knows the impact of addiction all too well. Not only is he in recovery for a heroin addiction, but his brother, Kyle, of Fraser, died Oct. 1, 2007, due to use of the same substance.

Campbell, whose sobriety date is July 26, 2007, was heavily involved in the early days of FAN. He would visit high schools and communities to discuss his personal struggles with addiction. It was a way to “never let my brother die in vain,” he said.

He stepped away for about eight years before recently rejoining the effort. Now with a wife and two children, he has seen FAN grow by “leaps and bounds” since its inception. Public awareness efforts have been “astronomical,” he said.

For example, it led to the creation of two sober living houses in Fraser in 2011. FAN money has helped furnish the homes, provide home-cooked meals every Sunday, and offer scholarships and general living essentials.

Campbell realized he has the ability to change the way he acts, thinks and feels, because being off drugs is a lifelong process.

As he celebrated 12 years of sobriety this past summer, he thought back to his old ways.

“Something was missing where I couldn’t figure it out, and I wasn’t giving back enough,” he recalled.

But as he described, people are addicted to all sorts of things: food, technology, you name it. What drives him to succeed is actually being an addict and addressing those issues face to face.

“There’s not many more things I’m proud of than being a person in recovery,” Campbell said.