COMMUNITY SPEAKS OUT
Community Speaks Out formed in the living room of Joe and Tammy de la Cruz. Joe and Tammy discovered in October of 2014 that their son was struggling with an addiction to Percocet. Though signs were there as early as October of 2011, denial and excuses were no longer an option. Joey was sent to his first rehab, which would not be his last.
During Joey’s first rehab the family talked for hours and spoke to close friends and discovered that so many young people were struggling with addiction. The de la Cruz family wondered why it would take their family to bring this to light. Nobody was talking about it. It felt like a dirty secret. The de la Cruz family decided to speak with their son while he was still in treatment and told him that although they knew this would be hard on him and the family, the only way to make a change was to take a stand and talk about it. Joe was an elected official on the Groton Town Council and he decided to share this with the rest of the Council. The Groton Town Council supported Joe 100 percent. Joe confided in a reporter from The Day and asked if when Joey got home they arranged for him to speak to Fitch High School students, would she cover the story to bring awareness to the community. The ground work was set and the de la Cruz family’s healing was beginning.
Joey did speak to students at Fitch High School in March of 2015. It was a powerful event. When Joey spoke you could hear a pin drop. Many sitting in the audience were siblings of a lot of his friends. The feedback that evening was so positive and supportive. The impact on the students was powerful. The article was great and reached many, even those that chose to ridicule the family for having Joey speak so early in his recovery. Looking back the family would not change a thing. Joey was relevant to those students and they believe that evening he changed a life.
The day after Joey spoke at Fitch, Tammy de la Cruz sat in the living room with her cousin and said this cannot end here. Speaking about this is just the beginning. Together they created a Facebook page and tossed around names for the family’s new mission. Community Speaks Out said it all for all of them. They needed this to go viral. And that it did. Quickly they were receiving calls for support and guidance, and even requests to do home visits and set up non-professional interventions. Connections with the Groton Town and Groton City Police were growing and they felt they were heading in a good direction.
Tammy met up with Linda Labbe and joined in with other grassroots efforts wanting to do similar things. Linda was going through the same struggles and had the same passion. Together more connections were being made and their friendship quickly started forming into a partnership. A few months later Linda and Tammy met Lisa Johns, a mother who had recently lost her son to an overdose, the three women attended the same meeting. Both women had known of Lisa through a mutual acquaintance. Lisa’s sadness was so raw but all could see that she had a need to make a difference to honor her son and begin to heal herself. After connecting and speaking in great length it was apparent that Linda, Lisa and Tammy all needed each other. The three of them joined forces and decided to bring Community Speaks Out to a greater level. What started as a grassroots effort to speak out was now looking like expanding to a larger scale and toward a nonprofit feel.
There was a lot of work to do and the three quickly hit the ground running. They discovered the angel/PAARI program in Gloucester Mass and collaborating with local police to try something similar that would work in the Southeastern Connecticut region. CSO now has over 100 individuals that they have assisted or supported along with their families. It is too soon to give any raw statistics but our recovery circle is growing. Community Speaks Out has an impressive board of directors and dedicated volunteers and is growing every day. As of September 22, 2016, Community Speaks Out was awarded their 501(c)3 nonprofit status with the IRS.
Community Speaks Out came about because a family in crisis needed the support of their community. Joey Gingerella inspired his family to speak out on a sensitive issue that is plaguing our society. Joey had reached 1 year clean of opioid pain medications on August 21, 2016. Sadly, Joey lost his life coming to the assistance of a women being assaulted by her boyfriend. Joey died a hero – keeping his story and memory alive through the legacy he left is the goal. CSO is pushing for changes to a broken system and to help as many families as they can to start healing from this disease of addiction. Joey left his footprints for all to see, and that continues to guide CSO in its mission to support the community.