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“Can you see me now:” Community lights candles to honor victims of overdose
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To commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day, some 1,400 candles, surrounded by pictures of more than 3,000 people, were lit at a ceremony at United Way of Forsyth County, each representing someone who lost their life to drug overdose. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 31, Realty4Recovery hosted the 5th annual Teacup Memorial Service to honor those who have lost their lives to drugs. Each teacup candle included the name and other information of an individual and was lit by family members, community leaders and others who were impacted or want to raise awareness of drug overdoses.  

“I can feel the power, in the room, of our children,” said Realty4Recovery founder Jennifer Hodge, who lost her son, Robbie, to drug overdose at age 23 in 2016 after taking a counterfeit Xanax.  

“I’m friends with so many of you that when you walk through those doors tonight and you look in this room, it’s not about anything else, it’s a connection with your child that you lost or your loved one, your mother, father, sister, brother.” 

Along with the candle-lighting and purple lights and decorations, the color for suicide awareness, more than 20 banners across the room featured photos of 150 faces, more than 3,000 total, along with the words “Can you see me now.”  

“This is an outstanding program that Jennifer has incorporated. I don’t know how in the world she got it all done,” said Bud Hodge, Robbie’s grandfather one of the event’s speakers. “I’m just amazed at all these pictures. Can you see all the beautiful people that are on the walls? It doesn’t need to be.” 

The banners have previously been taken to overdose awareness events as a way to show the impact of overdose deaths, rather than just statistics, and Jennifer Hodge said the total represented the average deaths from overdose every two weeks across the country.  

Jennifer Hodge said when she saw the candles, photos and families, she could feel “the power, in the room, of our children.” 

“I’m friends with so many of you that when you walk through those doors tonight and you look in this room, it’s not about anything else, it’s a connection with your child that you lost or your loved one, your mother, father, sister, brother,” she said.  

While the Teacup Memorial originated in Forsyth County, Hodge said the event had grown and some attendees came from out of state and, over the years, those who had lost family members to drug overdose had formed a bond “with people that can understand and comprehend the depth of our pain.” 

“It’s a different kind of a bond, and unless you walk in my shoes, you really couldn’t understand it, but we feel each other’s pain,” Hodge said.  

Along with family members, the event also included remarks from South Forsyth High School’s Saesha Kapoor and Lambert High School’s Vinayak Menon, members of the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council’s Youth Council. 

“Despite the unfathomable sadness, we hope to remember and share the bright moments of those who lost their battle to overdose and addiction,” Kapoor said. “Let us reminisce about what their lives and relationships meant to you and celebrate the kind of people they were.” 

Menon said while the ceremony was for a day of grief and mourning, he hoped it could also be “a day of hope and progress.” 

“It’s a first step of many in tackling this great crisis at hand,” he said. “That crisis, of course, is the impact of drug addiction on individuals and families across our county, the state of Georgia and our nation, it’s not only to solve the problem but to recognize that we have a problem at all.” 

To commemorate Overdose Awareness Day, United Way of Forsyth, Forsyth County government buildings and a city of Cumming water tower were lit purple. 

At a recent meeting, Forsyth County Commissioners also declared Tuesday, Aug. 30, Overdose Awareness Day and heard from family members of those who had lost loved ones.   

Realty4Rehab was founded in 2014 as a project to connect real estate agents with clients seeking to sell their homes. The agents then give a portion of their commission to addiction recovery efforts. The clients can choose where half that money goes. 

Along with the memorial and other overdose awareness events, Realty4Rehab has also donated Narcan, a medicine designed to combat the effects of drug overdose, to local first responders and schools.  

More information on the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council is available at https://www.forsythcountydrugawarenesscouncil.org.  

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