PHOTO BY ANNA ROSSFrom left to right: Virginia Johns, Artist; Joanna Mlicka-Anderko, SDEA, HIDTA; Jacqueline Szablowski, The Ammon Foundation; Katie Calvacca, Support Coordinator; Ann Marie Shafer, Director; Chris Ogar, Artist
By anna Ross
NEWTON — The Center for Prevention & Counseling welcomed the public to the 3rd Annual Heroin & Opioid Art Reception Saturday, Oct 13. Artwork depicting substance abuse effects and recovery are displayed on the walls throughout The Center. Chris Ogar’s painting called Malady earned the most audience votes and was the fan favorite. Chris warmly greeted all in the room. Things were not always so bright for Chris. He remembers thinking, “I can stop using heroin whenever I want, and then I couldn’t.” His first days in the program were a “bit of a blur” but he recalls being “smelly and wearing the same clothes for days” and “just not knowing what to think about The Center.” Now 21-years sober, he told the Saturday night crowd, “The 12 Steps Fellowship saved my life. The Center gave me an opportunity to be a better me.” He says that he has found the that creative arts gives an outlet, a way to express to oneself on a deeper level. For Virginia Johns, her outlet came in the form of a painting called Watching. She fought back tears while conveying the story of witnessing 2 loved ones die “at the mercy of heroin and opioid abuse related side effects. Sometimes it’s an exquisite torture and intolerable to watch.” Also speaking Saturday night was Joanna Mlicka-Anderko, the Demand Reduction Coordinator for DEA New Jersey Division NY/NJ HIDTA. As a two year old she'd lost her mother to substance abuse and was raised by her grandmother. She wanted to make a difference in the world and so became a DEA agent to focus on opioid addiction prevention, demand reduction, and outreach efforts. Joanna is a member of the High Intensity Drug Traffic Area organization and reminded everyone of Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 23-31. Red Ribbon week began after the kidnapping and torture of DEA Agent Camarena in 1985. Agent Camarena had been working undercover and his efforts helped in findings a big narcotics manufacturing operation in Mexico. During Red Ribbon week, “more than 80 million young people and adults show their commitment to a healthy drug free life by wearing or displaying the Red Ribbon.” The Center is displaying the artwork throughout the month of October from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and the public is welcome. Other creative family-friendly events at The Center include Journey through Arts and Music (JAM) sessions hosted every 2nd Saturday of the month. The next one scheduled is November 10th. The public is welcome to share music, poetry and art. Annmarie Shafer, Director, believes the 40-year non-profit has been successful because “having a community center allows us to be there for you when you need it and we are here for you in a big way.” Text @center65 to 81010 to receive information regarding ongoing meetings and upcoming events, or call (973) 940-2966 or visit www.centerfor prevention.org.