Photo and story by Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times
AMBRIDGE — Dozens of red, heart-shaped balloons dotted the sky on Wednesday evening in remembrance of friends and relatives who have lost their lives to drug addiction.
More than 100 people gathered in Ambridge’s P.J. Caul Park to not only remember those who have lost their lives, but to also encourage those in recovery.
Laura Probst, the founder and president of Pittsburgh’s Not One More chapter, said she wanted the event to not only reach out to people suffering with addiction themselves, but also people affected by the addiction of a relative or friend.
“We want to reach the people who aren’t (directly) affected because we know they will be in one way or another,” she said.
Probst described Not One More as a community education organization that seeks to engage in a way that is “talking with them rather than talking at them.”
The organization, which relies on donations, also works to bring local law enforcement members to its vigils, including Beaver County Sheriff Tony Guy, who spoke at Wednesday’s event, and Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier.
“Groups like this are the answer,” Lozier said. “Probably 70 percent of the people we prosecute are for drugs. They don’t need jail. They need treatment.”
Probst held the first vigil of the Pittsburgh chapter in Beaver in June 2013. Wednesday marked the second time the group visited Ambridge and the first since 2015.
Throughout the evening, several speakers who had either dealt with drug addiction themselves or witnessed it through a family member shared their stories to those gathered around the stage. Some presenters read poems written about loved ones who died.
“It’s breathtaking,” Renee Rock of Ambridge said. “The fear is there everyday, and I’m so thankful there’s so much awareness. It makes you really think about how precious every single moment of life is.”
The meaning and gravity of the vigil was felt strongly on two attendees who recently suffered the loss of an employee.
Herb and Angel Bailey, who run Uncommon Grounds Café in Aliquippa, said one their employees recently succumbed to an addiction, which Herb said led to second-guessing, grief and wondering how an untimely end could have been avoided. Along with other charitable programs, the café provides candidates recovering from drugs with work.
“We work with people in recovery, and this is the first time that I’ve had someone die like this,” Angel Bailey said at the vigil. “It’s difficult.”
As attendees lit their candles around 8 p.m., two women read the names of people who died from drug overdoses in the local area.
Near 9 p.m., the crowd released dozens of heart-shaped balloons representing their losses into the sunset.