PHOTOS: New park bench unveiled in Kamloops ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day

Fathers, mothers, daughters, sons: for all those affected by the ongoing opioid crisis, there's now a permanent place in Kamloops to honour them, thanks to Moms Stop the Harm.

The local support and activism group unveiled a memorial bench today (Aug. 29) in Riverside Park, as part of an International Overdose Awareness Day event, organized in conjunction with Addiction Matters Kamloops.

"Something that is physical like this in our park will maybe help the stigma a little bit, even just an ounce, because it's right out there in your face," says Jennifer Cottell with Moms Stop the Harm. "People like to close the door and put it under the bed. Yeah, people are going to read that and it's going to make them think. Even if it just puts that idea in your head, that's where it starts."

The group began raising money for the $2,800 bench last year. Through a GoFundMe campaign, plus donations collected from speaking at community events, they raised the money for the monument.

The "Somebody's Someone" bench is dedicated to those affected by substance abuse, like organizers Sandra Tully and Cottell.

"We have to reduce the stigma surrounding it. Stigma is a huge barrier, it was certainly a barrier for my son," says Tully, who lost her son Ryan Pinneo to an overdose in January 2016. "He was so afraid that someone he knew or a parent he knew would find out that he had a substance-use problem. In the big scheme of things, had he only known, they would've just wrapped their arms around him. That's the unfortunate thing."

Cottell also used to stigmatize those who battled addiction. But she learned from her daughter, who has been struggling with addiction for 14 years, that "tough love" isn't the way to go.

"That's not the way; we all know now that connection is key," she says. "You don't shame or discard your loved one because they're struggling with a disease. Keep them close. That's the only chance they're gonna have."

Three years ago, she sold her business, Amazing Inspirations, and threw herself fully into combating the ongoing crisis. She is also working with a family committee at the BC Centre for Substance Use, to try and best influence change at higher levels of government.

"I really realized with this epidemic, the more people that join forces: it's your community that's going to make change. If you sit on your back doorstep, nothing is going to happen."

There is a lot of people in Kamloops working to make change, including Jessica Mensinger with Addiction Matters, who used Thursday's gathering to debut a video made about their Photo Voice project. The photography art project allows those are currently battling substance-use issues to tell their stories anonymously and creatively. 

Mensinger says she fields lots of questions about the project from other organizations and the video, produced by Joy Factory Films, will make it easier to spread the word.

"I think it makes it more accessible," she says. "We really wanted it to be put in a medium that is more long-lasting and that we could take it to other venues in other contexts. A video is a way that we can start showing it on social media and our websites and, who knows, maybe we can develop relationships with schools and things like that."

Ultimately, organizers decided Thursday was a better day for the event, rather than hold it Aug. 31, the official International Overdose Awareness Day, since people would be out of town for the long weekend.

"It always means a ton to see so many people turn up," says Mensinger. "This isn't an easy topic for people, so some people don't come because it hits too close to home; some people don't come because they don't feel like it connects to them. So to see so many people come out means the world to me, personally. Events like this help us move that conversation forward around substance use and stigma."

Visit Moms Stop the Harm or Addiction Matters Kamloops to learn more about how you can help.

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