A night of remembrance 

County vigil focuses on struggles with substance abuse, remembers those lost

On Aug. 31 Timber Creek Park will be hosting the Night of Remembrance and Hope Memorial ceremony, Haddonfield native and Release Recovery Founder Zac Clark will serve as the keynote speaker.

Timber Creek Park will host the Camden County Remembrance and Hope Memorial Vigil Night next Thursday.

The Camden County Board of Commissioners and the Addiction Awareness Task Force sponsor the event so family and friends can remember loved ones lost to addiction and spread a message of hope to those still fighting it. The vigil is also an opportunity to help raise awareness of the opioid and addiction crisis in the county.

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Aug. 31 is National Overdose Awareness Day, and the county marks the observance with an unveiling of pavers, along with a candlelight ceremony, to honor overdose victims. John D. Pellicane of the Camden County Office of Mental Health and Addiction explained that the memorials offer a common place for county residents to convene with those who can relate to their struggles.

“On Aug. 31, this is when the families will see the pavers for the first time etched in stone with a name and saying on it …” Pellicane explained. “Ultimately, we (in the county) are averaging about 300 deaths per year from overdose … And since 2010, overdoses and fatalities are around 3,000.”

Cherry Hill resident John Tomlinson, who lost his brother, Joey, to an overdose at a house party in 2015, will share his family’s story of loss and the ripple effect it has had on them at the vigil.

Local nonprofit and awareness foundation Colin’s Wish founder Marcie Hamburg is unable to attend the event this year, but has had a presence.  Hamburg lost her son, Colin, to addiction in 2017 and has since carried on his name as he helps the county community.

Her foundation aims to help in harm reduction and assisting families and  children in Camden. Giving back, she noted, allows her to carry on her son’s memory.

“Running my nonprofit keeps me busy,” she said. “Knowing that I am helping others brings me comfort. I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t do this (Colin’s Wish). I have been doing this for a long time and it really brings me comfort.”

Zac Clark, founder and CEO of Release Recovery in New York City and a  Haddonfield native, will serve as the vigil’s keynote speaker. He was born and raised in South Jersey and spent summers at the Jersey Shore, excelled at high-school sports and lives what he called “a normal, white-picket-fence life.”

But substance abuse disorders don’t discriminate, and despite Clark’s accomplishments, his struggle persisted after brain tumor surgery introduced him to painkillers.

“I was kind of always the guy who was going to show up (to a party),” he recalled … “I’d been introduced to pills to a degree, but never in a way where I was  feeling for them or wanting them. But I think regardless of whether or not I got a brain tumor… I would have needed to get sober anyway.”

Clark caught the brain tumor at an urgent care facility on his way to a beach vacation with friends….Within 12 hours of discovering the tumor he was in surgery.

“(After surgery) my doctor never sat down with me and said, ‘You are done with the prescriptions,’” Clark added. “I just remember how great they made me feel. Then once they ran out, I went out to the streets for the first time (to buy drugs),

“Eventually I had this secret I wasn’t telling anyone; I was (using) opiates.”

With the help of his mother and wife, Clark entered rehab for 30 days in 2010. He remained healthy for a while, but eventually regressed. He admits his personal timeline of events is “a bit of a blur.”

This is something Clark says is common for many people who struggle, their battle is full of ups and downs. It’s rarely a steep drop off but rather a series of events that lead someone to where they ultimately end up.

For Clark his turnkey moment came when he drove into Camden for the first time in 2011 – after drinking a bottle of vodka – and bought heroin. This began a spiral in his life.

“My wife caught me basically that night and left me,” Clark remembered. “I’m grateful for it, because it was the first time someone in my life called me (on my mistakes).”

On Aug. 30 of that year, Clark made the decision to turn his life around. It happened after he attempted to deposit a check at a Camden bank, when teller Ronda Jackson flagged the transaction and called Clark’s father.

“She really saved my life,” he said.

The two have maintained a relationship, and Jackson will be present when Clark tells his story at the vigil. Clark first began sharing his story on ABC’s “The Bachelorette.” His story resonated with millions of people and he has since gone on to create a strong social following, he says he tries his hardest to respond to all the direct messages and comments he can.

Clark has inspired others with his love of fitness, running and Philadelphia sports, and his efforts to rebuild relationships damaged during his struggles.

To donate and learn more about Colin’s Wish, Clark’s life and foundation as well as seek help from county commissioners resources, visit the links below:

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