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Recovery rally aims to offer hope

haywoodIt takes a village to combat a drug addiction or mental illness, and Richie Tannerhill is hoping to see a multitude of villages turn out when the inaugural Western Regional Rally for Recovery comes to Lake Junaluska Sept. 19.

“People who do well in recovery don’t do it on their own,” he said. “We need recovery allies.”

If anyone would know, it would be Tannerhill. Now a peer and family support specialist for The Smoky Mountain Center, he was once on the other side of addiction, in and out of jail with little hope of overcoming. 

“I would get released back into the community with no money, no supports, nowhere to go, and it was hard to make it,” he said. “By the grace of God I’ve been able to make it this time.”

He’s been in recovery for nine years, with support from the community a big part of that accomplishment. 

The goal of the recovery rally is let others know that support exists for them, too — and not just in Haywood County.  The rally’s long list of partners ranges from the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office to the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority to the Jackson County Health Department. The bigger the crowd, the stronger the message that support exists for people dealing with addiction and, on the flip side, that people dealing with these issues aren’t necessarily bad people. 

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“There’s a lot of people that are in our community that are recovering from different forms of substance abuse, and a lot of people become addicted — especially on prescription drugs — when they don’t mean to be,” said Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed, a longtime advocate for drug abuse prevention and recovery. “They’ve started taking prescription drugs for legitimate reasons and become addicted to them.” 

Often, Hollingsed said, he’s working on the front end of drug issues — preaching a message of prevention but carrying out his responsibility to lock up people who use drugs illegally. The recovery rally is a chance to show that law enforcement supports people who have already developed a problem. 

“A major part of our job is to lock up people that are abusing the system, that are out there doctor shopping, and that is part of our job,” Hollingsed said. “But we think it’s also important to give people the help they need to stay away from the danger of drugs.”

Spend a few minutes speaking with Hollingsed and it’s clear that’s something he truly believes — enough so that in the awards portion of the event, he’ll be receiving the Recovery Ally of the Year award. 

A job fair featuring employers who have committed to give people in recovery a chance will show that’s an attitude that extends beyond the police department, and a recovery walk around Lake Junaluska will be another demonstration of support. The goal is to get 1,000 people to show up. 

The reel of success stories will be another important feature, said Tannerhill. People in recovery will share five-minute versions of their stories, with the goal of extending hope to anyone listening. 

But there will also be a lighthearted side to the event. 

“It’s family-friendly,” Tannerhill said. “We have a lot of children’s activities. We have multiple bouncy houses. We have balloon artists, we have face painting. That helps us to combat the stigma.”

Which is: people recovering from addiction are dangerous, scary, not to be trusted. 

The truth, Tannerhill said, is that 23 million Americans are in successful recovery from drug abuse, and 50 million are in successful recovery from mental health issues.

So recovery is possible, and it needs to be. 

“I’m a big prevention advocate myself, but every time I go give a speech to a group of students at a school and talk about prevention, I also carry the recovery message,” Tannerhill said, “because statistics tell us there’s somebody in that room who has already crossed the line.”


Want to go? 

• What: The Western Regional Recovery Rally will promote and support recovery from alcohol, drugs, mental health and other life challenges in a fun, family-friendly atmosphere. The day will include a recovery walk around Lake Junaluska, recovery champion and ally of the year awards, guest speakers, free food, children’s activities, resource information, a job fair and free giveaways. 

• When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19

• Where: Lake Junaluska open air gym

• Contact: Richie Tannerhill, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800.893.6246, ext. 1157

• Cost: Free.

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