WALLINGFORD — The Coalition for a Better Wallingford and The Dry Dock sponsored the Interfaith Candlelight Vigil, the culminating event of Red Ribbon Week, on the Parade Grounds Tuesday night.
The event was held to honor the 93 town residents organizers said have died in drug or alcohol-related incidents in the past 10 years. Red Ribbon Week is a national week of observance related to substance abuse-related topics.
Coalition representative Ken Welch challenged those assembled to “reflect, connect, and recover.” He said this process entails reflecting on those whose lives have been lost, connecting with those that are still here, and offering hope of and help with recovery to those that need it.
The Rev. Margaret Jay of First Congregational Church encouraged the gathering to have a “common commitment to a stronger, safer community” and to “support those whose grief is often silent and whose stories are unshared. ... The faces of addiction are not just strangers, but neighbors, family, and friends.”
Local high school student Alyssa Florentino urged peers of hers that may be struggling with a substance problem to talk to a parent or trusted adult even though they may often feel as if grownups do not understand them. “As hard as it is, we must speak up,” she said.
“This is our town and our future,” she added.
Jennifer Short, representing the Coalition for a Better Wallingford and the Taylor Short Foundation, spoke on behalf of families who’ve experienced a loss.
Short said communication between adults and young people has to work both ways. She said the loss of her daughter Taylor’s life on Nov. 26, 2012, could have been prevented if Taylor had made different decisions, but said she should have listened to her daughter more carefully.
“As parents, the art of listening needs to be worked on every day,” she said.
The vigil was highlighted by a candle lighting ceremony initiated by two fathers, Scott Weborg and Edward E. Short Jr., “who know the pain, the sorrow, the grief that never really goes away,” Jay said.
The Rev. Anne Bracket of Yalesville Methodist Church provided the crowd a final promise of hope.
“Lighting one candle isn’t enough,” she said, “but connected by our shared grief and strength, we will make a difference in someone’s life tonight.”
The ceremony ended as bells at First Congregational Church, First Baptist Church, and the Historical Society began to ring. The bells would ring 93 times — once for each lost life recognized at the event — while friends and neighbors huddled together silently for warmth or comfort in the frigid night air.
After the vigil, many present went to the parking lot of WPAA TV 28 on South Orchard Street for a companion event entitled “93 Minutes of Reflection,” where friends and loved ones of people lost to or affected by drug and alcohol abuse shared stories and solace.