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Family outreach program looks to help fight drug use

Founders Serenity Family Outreach (from left) Cathaleen Novak ErDay their mother Maureen Fleming sit serenity garden they created memory their

Founders of Serenity Family Outreach (from left) Cathaleen Novak, Erin Day and their mother, Maureen Fleming, sit in the serenity garden they created in memory of their son/brother Matt Barham, who died of a drug overdose last September. They will host a back to school educational series on strategies to prevent drug use at 7 p.m. Aug. 18 and Sept, 8 at Jacob's Well Church in Evergreen Park. | Susan DeMar Lafferty/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 31, 2014 6:22AM



Serenity Family Outreach is hosting a different type of a back-to-school event for families — one that doesn’t include list of school supplies, but one, they believe, should be at the top of the list.

The event — “Talking Smack: The truth about drug use and high school” — will be a two-part educational series to help youths, parents and school staff prevent drug use. It’s free and open to the public.

Since Serenity Family Outreach was launched earlier this year, its mission has focused on helping families who struggle with the disease of addiction, and erasing the stigma of addiction.

It was started by a Mount Greenwood mother, Maureen Fleming, and her two daughters from Evergreen Park, Cathaleen Novak and Erin Day, who last year lost their son and brother Matt Barham, 29, to a drug overdose.

Since April they have hosted two meetings a month — focusing on education and support for families battling addiction. They want to get the community involved in their fight to prevent drug abuse.

“If you’re a parent, wouldn’t you want to be one step ahead of this?” Day said, adding that parents need to realize that “good kids do drugs.”

DARE programs — still used in many schools — “are too little, too late,” she said.

Serenity’s back to school series will offer two programs, at 7 p.m. Aug. 18 and Sept. 8 at Jacob’s Well Church, 3450 Maple Ave., Evergreen Park.

The August event will feature Nick Gore as keynote speaker. Gore, a recovering heroin addict, appeared on Oprah Prime and has made presentations at schools sharing his journey from drug use to abuse, to addiction and recovery.

In September, Dr. Kathleen Burke, founder of Strategic Prevention and former CEO of the Robert Crown Health Center, will offer strategies to help parents identify risky behavior, minimize risk taking and raise resilient children.

Novak said they are targeting junior high and high school youth, parents and school staff.

“This is an awesome opportunity — and it’s free,” she said. “This is our big prevention push. We want to help parents identify drug use and be proactive.”

“Kids need to know this is really, really bad,” Fleming said. “We have learned so much through our own experience. When I first heard about Matt, I was physically sick.”

While drug addiction is typically a “hush-hush” topic for families, Fleming and her daughters want to bring it out into the open, talk about it, get people the help they need and raise awareness about this disease.

“You have to stop looking the other way,” Fleming said.

“We’re learning as we go. We like to help people in Matt’s situation. We want to educate people so there is more understanding,” Day said.

While Serenity Family Outreach helps families learn to live with an addict without enabling them, it also helps them find resources they need so they can deal with this disease with dignity.

They have also assisted at sober living/recovery homes in Blue Island —Advance Her Chance and Affordable Construction and Recovery

“When we found out about Matt, we could not get help for him. There was no one to help us,” Novak said. And that spurred them on to help others.

Serenity hosts educational sessions and support groups on the first and third Mondays of each month at 7 p.m. at Jacob’s Well Church.

“While rehab and treatment centers help with the addict’s immediate recovery, we saw a real need to holistically and comprehensively treat not only the addict but the people and community that surround them,” Novak said.

On the first anniversary of Matt’s death, Sept. 21, they will host a 5K run/walk at 1 p.m. at Klein “Circle” Park in Evergreen Park, to raise awareness as well as funds for their continued programs. The event, which is $30 per person or $100 for a team of four, will include T-shirts, a professionally timed USATF-certified course and a post party with music and food. Kids 12 and under are free.

Registration and information are available at serenityoutreach.org.



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