If you have been following along in our Stories from The Front Lines article series, you know that over the past several weeks we have covered a variety of stories, topics, and challenges arising out of COVID-19 meeting the existing addiction crisis in Ohio. In our article last week we covered the courts’ response to the current crisis and highlighted the many challenges and creative solutions they are experiencing. As we start to see some light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 lock down in Ohio, we wanted to share a couple stories of hope and inspiration. It is our desire that these stories help spur you on into the “new normal” with motivation and a desire to support those in recovery in your community.

One Woman’s Story

Our first story of hope comes from a letter written by a resident of The Woodrow Project recovery housing in Cuyahoga County. She wrote this letter to Governor DeWine about her experience during this time:

“I have just moved into the Daisy House sponsored by the Woodrow Project. I’m writing to tell you what this opportunity has meant to me during this time of uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You see, before yesterday I was homeless during a time when Americans have been ordered to stay home to stop the spread of the virus. I had nowhere to stay and was exposing myself daily. Prior to that, I was in a homeless program called Operation Homes, and I stayed in different churches ever week. Then the pandemic happened and all of the churches had to close their doors, and they had nothing to help me.

I was spending a lot of time at the local library and fast food places plus attending AA meetings. Then the pandemic hit and every other place closed its doors and I was left with nowhere at all. I had been reaching out for help and my peer supporter gave me the website for the Woodrow Project.

Thanks to the helpful house mother, it took four days from the time I submitted the online application. She did everything possible to expedite the process, all the while taking a chance on me since I had been so exposed.

I could have stayed in a drug house or with a friend who used, by my sobriety was too important to me. So she took a chance on me because that’s what people in recovery do, help each other stay sober. Being able to come here has not only saved my life and kept me sober, it is going to save my relationship with my son who is in the foster care system.

Because I have the support of the other girls here, the house mother, and online meetings my recovery gets stronger every day. This is the best thing that has happened to me in the past year. I can have confidence that we can make it through both my sobriety and the pandemic. I have more support and encouragement than I have ever had. That’s what the Woodrow Project has done for me!”

Over the past several months, so many have been lost to overdoses or have relapsed that at times it seems like we can’t make any progress in this fight against addiction. It’s stories like these that help those of us working in the addiction field to have the strength to keep moving forward. Everyone is worth fighting for and making the difference in the life of one has an incredible impact.

Project White Butterfly’s Story

Our second story of hope this week highlights the efforts of one amazing individual seeking to impact many who are struggling with addiction. In August 2019, Sara Szelagowski was struggling to help a loved one who was in and out of active addiction. Being a person in recovery herself, Sara understood this journey well. She wanted to use her experience and her new found passion for recovery to serve others going through the same things.

She was working to help her loved one, but they were not ready for help and she wanted to do more. When talking through her frustration with a friend about wanting to reach people in addiction and provide them with hope, she came up with the idea for what’s now known as Project White Butterfly. Project White Butterfly is a simple, yet impactful outreach effort.

This is how Sara describes it in her own words:

“What we do is simple: we write notes of hope, encouragement, and love to people who are trapped in the darkness of their addiction. We place these notes in cards, that also contain numbers to local resources that support recovery and a white butterfly bead (a small token they can carry, even if they disregard everything else), and place the cards around the city to be found at random.

HOPEfully our small gesture will have an impact on many people who find our cards. And HOPEfully we can be the reminder to those stuck in a dark place who come across our cards that there IS another way to live. There IS hope. And there IS love. All around us. Every day.”

I asked Sara where the name Project White Butterfly came from. She shared that it was inspired by an experience very personal to her. In a Facebook Post in November 2019, Sara shared the meaning behind the name:

“My brother in law died of a drug overdose in 2018. He was 30 years old. He left behind a twelve year old son, a beautiful girlfriend, and a family that still feels the pain of his absence every day. The day he died, I saw a white butterfly flying around our yard as friends and family gathered to mourn. The moment I saw that white butterfly I felt something. A peace came over me and felt a voice say, ‘Justin is ok. He is at peace. He is no longer feeling lost.’ Justin is my inspiration for using a white butterfly as the symbol of my mission to help addicts who are trapped in the darkness of addiction.”

Since it started, Project White Butterfly has distributed over 5,000 cards. Most have been distributed in the Northeast Ohio, but Sara said that she has shipped kits with cards as far as The UK and Canada to people who want to fill them out and send them back or distribute them in their own city. The Project White Butterfly Facebook Page currently has almost 2,000 followers and their private support group has over 3,000 members. It is clear that this is a movement that is resonating with people and when I talked with Sara, she was blown away by how quickly her simple idea to give back has grown.

I know that many of us are still stuck at home right now and not able to perform any fulfilling work in the community, so if you are looking for an easy way to give back from home, please consider supporting the work of Project White Butterfly.

There are several ways to get involved:

  1. Write encouraging messages on 3×5 cards for Sara to include in their cards. You can mail notes to: Project White Butterfly, 7452 Broadview Road, #148, Parma, OH 44134
  2. Distribute cards in your city. You can learn more about this by reaching out to Sara at: projectwhitebutterfly@gmail.com
  3. Donate to support the purchasing of Project White Butterfly Cards. You can send checks made out to Sara Szelagowski to the address above or send funds via Venmo: https://venmo.com/SaraSzelagowski
  4. Like and follow the Project White Butterfly Facebook Page to keep up with their efforts!

Thank you so much for following along with this article series. We pray that the information and stories have provided you with insight and hope throughout this difficult time. We know that as things start to open back up for Ohio, the challenges are only beginning. While this article series is coming to a close, relink.org’s efforts to keep the community informed are not. We will continue to post articles regularly about relevant topics we discover through our work across the state.

If you have questions or ideas for future article topics, please contact Bethany Friedrichsen using the information below..

If you or someone you know needs help now, find resources in your area through our online search tool.

About the Author

Bethany Friedrichsen is the Statewide Coordinator for relink.org. She has a background in psychology and has been working for the past three years in the addiction recovery and reentry space to create connection for people in need to the caring resources in their community.

Contact Bethany