WOOD RIVER JCT. — The Chariho Task Force is offering a series of support groups for parents of drug-addicted children and families who have lost children to addiction. The “Strong Arms” support groups are open to all parents, including those living outside the three Chariho towns.
The sessions will take place at St. Thomas Episcopal Church beginning on May 21 and will be facilitated by Chariho High School and Middle School prevention counselors, Kate Tokarski and Terri Censabella.
Funded by a $2,080 minigrant from the Rhode Island Department of Health, the support group will be the first resource of its kind in southern Rhode Island for families coping with addiction. Censabella described the area’s addiction problem as acute.
“Three of the South County communities are considered as flagged for the high risk of accidental or opiate overdose,” Censabella said.
“Charlestown and Hopkinton, and Westerly is the other one. The state is targeting them.”
Censabella said she was hearing so many stories about the struggles that local families were going through that she and Tokarski decided to try offering a support group.
“We were hearing more and more stories of families losing these people to opiates, either accidental or suicide, and we’re hoping that this will help families who are still struggling to help each other,” Censabella said.
“We were trying to decide whether to make this a bereavement group or make it a combination and we decided to go with the combination, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Tokarski said she wanted to make it easier for families to ask for help. “I think that active addiction, there’s still a lot of stigma against that,” she said.
“It’s difficult for families to reach out for help and then families who have been there can be so helpful to families that are doing it now, and especially families who have lost a loved one,” Tokarski said. “It might be healing for them to be able to help someone in a way that they couldn’t help their own child.”
It’s difficult to get an idea of how many parents might attend the first support group, but Censabella said she had noticed some interest on the task force’s Facebook page.
“We’re having more and more comments, ‘How do you get help?’ So there’s been some reaching out,” she said. “It sounds like there’s interest, but whether they’ll come, that’s a whole other story. We’re hoping that once the word gets out, we will have a good group, because there is nothing out here.”
Tokarski said the group’s participants would determine its focus and direction.
“We thought about doing a registration, but we really want it to be their group, and so, giving them the power to decide how it goes is our plan,” she said.
In addition to being an addiction education resource, the group will offer essential emotional support.
“Just knowing that they’re not alone, because I think addiction can be a very lonely journey for a family, and not a lot of people talk openly about their experiences,” Tokarski said
“When you really start to talk to people, you find out that most of us have been touched by addiction. The thing that we want to get across to them about addiction is they can’t control what their loved one is doing. We really want to give them the skills to cope with their own feelings…It’s a lot, especially if it’s your child. You’re supposed to be able to fix things for them.”
The support group will run twice a week for three months, after which Censabella said she hoped more funding would become available.
The Rev. Bettine Besier of St. Thomas Church has applied for an Episcopal Charities grant, which, if awarded, would begin in January 2019 and continue for a year.
Bridge funding is needed, however, to keep the group going from July to January.
“I would probably volunteer to continue it, because I feel that strongly about it,” Tokarski said.
The first session will be on Monday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 322 Church St., Wood River Junction.
Censabella and Tokarski also encourage families to email them for more information at: terri.Censabella@chariho.k12.ri.us or Kate.Tokarski@chariho.k12.ri.us.