Herren Project Ambassadors are a group of 28 community members from across the country who go the extra mile to connect others to Herren Project’s services and promote the power of recovery. Some organize events. Some raise funds in their communities. Some speak on behalf of Herren Project. Some participate in Team Herren Project active events. But the one thing they all have in common is they all raise positive awareness and help break the stigma of addiction to drugs and alcohol.
This year we held our 4th Annual Herren Project Ambassador Retreat at the Craigville Retreat Center on Cape Cod from June 25-26. A small group arrived Friday night. After settling in, they gathered for a short run Saturday morning so Caleb could get his annual picture taken at Four Seas Ice Cream. It also allowed everyone to share and catch up with one another. As ambassadors and staff arrived, the sense of connection and community was immediately palpable. For many of these individuals, it was their first time meeting. However, an outside observer would not have picked up on that.
48 Hours of Impact
A few words that come to mind about these powerful 48 hours:
The retreat opened with Sean MacMillen, the Herren Project Community Engagement Coordinator, sharing the impact the ambassadors and staff have had on him during some extremely challenging times and now on a daily basis. Bonnie Sawyer, the Executive Director, thanked the ambassadors for all they do and discussed the strategic plan and the important role the ambassadors play. Each staff member then introduced themselves and provided a brief overview of what they do each day so ambassadors could better understand the impact of the work Herren Project is doing for the cause of addiction.
The connection and sharing continued as we gathered to each lunch together. The conversations happened naturally and organically. After lunch, our Youth Engagement Specialist, Natalie DeLaCruz, demonstrated her courage by sharing her story with the ambassadors and staff. Natalie’s story was very powerful and profoundly impacted everyone in the room. It was the catalyst for a great session of others’ comments, education, and more sharing. This was one of the most impactful two hours of the retreat and the reason for what we do and why.
All the ambassadors and staff submitted a song (or two) that was meaningful to them. Each song was compiled into a special playlist. We listened to each song, and the person who chose it explained why they picked that song. The music spoke to us. For some, it was the lyrics. For some, it was the beat of the music. The music sparked more sharing and connection in ways I never imagined possible.
After an emotional roller coaster of a day, we lightened the mood with the help of Suzanne Hole. We are not a glum lot! I am a firm believer we all need some play in our lives, and what better way than through childhood games. The games brought out the laughter and the competitiveness of our ambassadors. The night ended with the traditional walk to Four Seas for ice cream, which led to even more great conversations, if that was possible at this point.
The Power of Community and Connection
It is hard to put into words what the retreat means to each person in attendance and what it does for everyone. Something powerful happens when you bring together all these different pieces of recovery. From people in recovery to family members with loved ones in recovery or struggling, family members who have lost loved ones from substance use disorder, or some who fit all the above, it’s beyond impactful and healing. We show recovery is possible. Bringing families back together is possible. Most importantly, healing is possible. We all sit in the same room talking about the ugly side of addiction but what shines through in the end is the beautiful side of recovery and healing that is only possible through community and connection.
On Sean’s way home from Ambassador Retreat, he had the honor of stopping to visit with Chris Herren, founder of Herren Project, and his son Chris, Jr. They shared great conversations about life, recovery, and helping others, but the most important reason for the stop was to deliver the flag he ran the Newport 10 Miler with to Chris’s wife, Heather. He gave the flag to Heather in recognition of what she has done and continues to do for those affected by addiction.
The spouse of someone in the throes of addiction can be like that of a military spouse, holding down the fort, the family’s rock. They are the ones doing their best to keep it together. They never know who might be walking in the door. They don’t know when they might get that “call.” It’s hell and can be a thankless job. Heather is one of those people who now dedicates her life to others through her work with Chris at their holistic wellness and recovery center, Herren Wellness.