Peninsula residents gathered at Soldotna Creek Park on Saturday to stomp out the stigma of addiction — one step at a time.
Change 4 the Kenai — a local coalition dedicated to substance abuse prevention in the community through advocacy and education — hosted their third annual Stomp Out Stigma Color Run at noon on Saturday.
“We’re working to stomp out the stigma of addiction and bring awareness to the community that everyone matters, and that people dealing with addiction shouldn’t feel ashamed to come and get services or seek help,” Project Coordinator Shari Conner said on Saturday. “Which is what happens when people are perceived as being a ‘junkie’ or something that’s very negative instead of looking at addiction as a disease.”
The “color” part of the color run came in the form of powdered chalk that volunteers threw onto passersby while they completed a 5K loop at their own leisure. Conner said that there’s no underlying meaning behind the colors — they’re just fun. In between the color stations were pink flamingos to guide the participants along the loop, which used the same route as the Kenai River Festival run through the Mullen Homestead and Swiftwater Park.
Runners and walkers who registered for the event were given free T-shirts that had the Change 4 the Kenai logo on the front but were otherwise left white — perfect for getting covered in colored chalk.
Kathy and Don Cross moved to Soldotna last year and said they heard about the event and thought it would be a good way to spend their Saturday.
Kathy works in health care and said that, coming from Virginia, one of the first things they noticed was the prevalence of addiction in community.
“We’d stop at a rest area coming down through Turnagain Arm, and there would be needles all over the rest area,” Cross said. “And it amazes me the ages of people that are addicted. When we lived in Virginia I assumed addiction was basically a younger person’s thing, but here I’ve seen people dealing with it in their 70s and 80s. It’s sad.”
Lisa Hutchens came to the event from Kasilof and is in recovery from her own struggles with addiction. A recent graduate from the Serenity House Treatment Center, Hutchens has been sober for about 2 1/2 years.
“My addiction led me to jail, in and out many times, and the loss of my children. I had to sign them over for adoption. But as of today I have my son here with me, so I get to be part of their lives and care for them again. It’s been a really long road to get here, and lots of tries, but I’m here and I feel confident that I can stay sober,” Hutchens said.
Hutchens said that events like the Color Run are a good way for her to be engaged with the community, and she was happy to see so many people come out and show their support for Hutchens and others like her who are on the pathway to recovery.
About 50 people showed up to run, walk or stroll. Afterward, the 5K participants were treated to a barbecue while people like Hutchens shared their personal stories of recovery.
Claire Jones is about a week into her recovery at Serenity House. Jones has been sober for four months as of Friday, but she said after only a week at Serenity House that the experience has been “amazing.”
“I’d tried everything else before (Serenity House) and it just wasn’t working for the long term,” Jones said. “They’re teaching me not just how to stay clean, but a way to live sober by changing your behaviors and your outlook on life, and just preparing you for outside life without having to return to that chemical.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with Change 4 the Kenai or beginning the pathway to recovery can contact Shari Conner at 907-714-4521. Change 4 the Kenai hosts meetings on the third Friday of every month at 10 a.m. in the Kasilof Room of the Kenai River Tower at Central Peninsula Hospital.