Illinois state Reps. Sara Feigenholtz and Greg Harris were honored at the Gateway Foundation's ( Gateway ) National Recovery Month fundraising event for addiction treatment, "Illuminating Recovery," Sept. 18 at Venue West.
The event also celebrated the LGBTQ-only Out in Recovery residential program opening Oct. 11. The program will be housed at Gateway Foundation Lake Villa.
Gateway has provided substance abuse treatment for adults, adolescents and people with co-occurring mental health issues for more than five decades. Since its founding, more than 1 million clients have graduated from its programs across the country.
WGN Radio's Extension 720 host Justin Kaufmann emceed. He spoke to the 250 attendees about the tremendous feedback he received when the WGN documentary Gateway and Their Stories was released a few months ago.
Gateway Development Committee Chair Liz Ogilvie-Simer said this was the first ever Illuminating Recovery event in honor of National Recovery Month and the second event of its kind.
"Our hope is this will become an annual gathering for advocates and champions to bring the reality of a life of recovery to all who need it," said Ogilvie-Simer.
Illinois Department of Human Services ( IDHS ) Secretary Grace Hou spoke about the partnerships IDHS has had with community providers like Gateway throughout the years, adding how happy she was to be at this event where Feigenholtz and Harris were being honored for their outspoken work to increase treatment access for the most vulnerable residents of the state.
While presenting Harris and Feigenholtz with their awards, Gateway's Strategic Partnerships and Engagement Vice President Dr. Teresa Tere Garate spoke about the breadth of their work on causes that have increased access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment for every Illinoisan.
"Through their personal stories and triumphs they have inspired and motivated all of us to become better," said Garate. "They have personally taught me how to fight for what is right, champion a cause and illuminate the way for change. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn from them and work alongside them, sometimes in very difficult situations."
"Still today, people are struggling to get access to the care they need for mental health and substance abuse issues," said Harris. "As somebody who is duly diagnosed with both I have been very fortunate to be able to have access to care in a place that was convenient and culturally appropriate to me and where insurance actually paid the cost, but that is not the reality for a lot of folks. … We are very grateful [for the work Gateway does to increase access.]"
Harris spoke about a recent Chicago Sun-Times article in which he shared his mental health and substance use story and the amount of people who approached him and said they could not believe he would talk about it in public because it would threaten his job. He said it surprised him that in 2019 about half of the people expressed this opinion and added there is a lot of work to be done to reduce the stigma that comes from talking about one's recovery.
Feigenholtz mentioned how lucky she feels Illinois is to have a majority leader ( Harris ) who has had this recovery experience and is willing to be open about itadding that there have been political leaders who did not want to address substance abuse issues or talk about mental illness, although that has changed in recent years, she stated. Feigenholtz called on everyone to continue to do this work to help as many people possible on the road to recovery.
Gateway President/CEO Dr. Tom Britton said the organization's mission is "to provide the most effective and compassionate care for those who suffer from addiction and mental illness. We make a commitment each day to save and transform lives."
Britton reminded attendees that, at last year's event, he urged people to get angry about the amount of people lost to addiction. He said that the same amount of people died in the last 12 months as the previous 12 months. Britton added that, since last year, Gateway has served 36,493 people across the country; and, due to the support they have received over the past two years, the number of people it serves each day has increased from 6,000 to 10,000and will grow to 12,000 people next June.
In terms of Gateway's initiatives, Britton said it has made changes to improve outcomes, including the new LGBTQ program in Lake Villa, among others.
Britton also told his story about being a recovering addict and how fortunate he was to have the resources to battle this illness. He spoke about the day he surrendered to someone else to get the help he needed and how much Gateway assisted him in that recovery.
"The magic of recovery is one person helping another person," said Britton.
Desiree Gruberwhose self-taught musician and songwriter son, Benjamin Trey Gruber, died of an opioid overdose Sept. 12, 2017, at age 26spoke about her son's struggle with addiction, migraines, panic attacks and depression as well as his musical talent, love of animals, skateboarding and go-carting.
"I have heard it said that the very best way to honor someone no longer with us is to become like their best parts," said Gruber. "Trey's best parts were his empathy, giving nature and his music."
Gruber said that the proceeds from her son's only album, Herculean House of Cards, will be donated to Gateway, where he stayed for treatment and led to his longest stint of sobriety; and called on attendees to match that donation of $1,800, which they exceeded that evening.
The evening also featured music by the Jam Alker Band;, a video highlighting the work the Gateway Foundation does and testimonials from their clients, some of whom identified as members of the LGBTQ community; and a live auction that Collaboraction Theatre Company Artistic Director Anthony Moseley hosted. The event raised more than $140,000 from both auctions and ticket sales combined.
See GatewayFoundation.org .