Former NBA player to share story of addiction, recovery

Former National Basketball Association (NBA) player Chris Herren is coming to Wilton on Tuesday, Oct. 21, to talk not about his professional basketball career but about his addictions, recovery and sobriety.

Mr. Herren, who played for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics from 1999 to 2001, struggled with substance abuse for most of his career — his police record includes seven drug-related felonies — but he has been drug- and alcohol-free since Aug. 1, 2008.

Following his sobriety, Mr. Herren created the nonprofit organization The Herren Project, which provides treatment navigation, mentoring programs and education to raise awareness of substance abuse dangers.

During his Oct. 21 visit, Mr. Herren will host two sessions at Wilton High School’s Clune Center, 395 Danbury Road — one for high school students in the afternoon and one for the public at 7 p.m.

Mr. Herren will share his story and have an honest discussion about substance abuse. The evening presentation will be followed by a Q&A session.

“My goal is to make a difference in at least one person’s life,” said Mr. Herren.

“I am sharing my story to spread a message of hope and to let people know that it’s never too late to start a new chapter in life.”

Silver Hill Hospital, the Wilton Youth Council, Wilton Public Schools, and Wilton Youth Services are sponsoring the event and will participate in a prevention, treatment and recovery services fair beginning at 6:30 that evening.

“All of the sponsoring and supporting organizations will have tables set up in the lobby of the Clune Center to provide information on addiction, prevention and treatment services,” said Heather Porter, Silver Hill’s marketing and business development director.

“We will also have mental health screenings available, as well as basic information about treatment resources.”

Ms. Porter said this will be the fourth event that most of the sponsoring organizations have worked on over the last several years.

“We have a goal to provide education and awareness of drug and alcohol use, and ultimately, we just want there to be an open dialogue,” she said.

“We want people to know it’s OK to talk about an addiction, it’s OK to talk about psychiatric illness — it helps to remove the stigma that is often associated with them.”

Fund raising

Each year, Wilton Youth Council’s PeerConnection students have brought the program to a close by developing a project that allows them to “implement the peer-helping skills they have learned,” said PeerConnection program leader Melissa Geramita.

“Last spring, our PeerConnection group hosted a handball tournament after school, open to all students at Middlebrook School,” said Ms. Geramita. “The tournament was held to raise funds for Chris Herren’s visit.”

Twenty-five seventh and eighth grade PeerConnection students organized all aspects of the tournament and raised $321 for Mr. Herren’s presentation.

Impact

Ms. Geramita said the idea to bring Mr. Herren to Wilton came from the Wilton Youth Council’s Task Force to Reduce Substance Abuse.

“The goal of this organization is to reduce substance abuse among youths,” said Ms. Geramita.

“They wanted a powerful presentation that addressed prescription drug abuse, and would resonate with kids and adults alike.”

Ms. Porter has spoken to people who have attended one of Mr. Herren’s presentations, and, she said, “they have talked about how much his message really resonates with them.”

“We’ve heard people speak about how moving Chris’s presentation is,” said Ms. Porter. “People will hear Chris firsthand talk about his struggles with substance abuse and how he was able to overcome those challenges.”

Ms. Porter said she thinks someone like Mr. Herren, who has lived a high-profile life as a professional athlete, can help people understand the seriousness of substance abuse.

“Sometimes people don’t think that individuals as successful as he was in his career could possibly be touched by a psychiatric illness or a drug and alcohol addiction issue,” said Ms. Porter.

“So I think, in some ways, there is something to be learned because of his professional sports experience.”

Ms. Porter said the sponsoring organizations recommend the event for people 13 years and older.

“We think it’s important for parents to come with their teenagers,” she said, “because this is a way to begin to have an open dialogue with your child about drug and alcohol use.”

Ms. Geramita said she doesn’t know how many attendees to expect, but hopes to fill the Clune Center.

“I have heard a lot of buzz around town, and in surrounding towns, about people wanting to attend,” she said.

“Other communities who have hosted events with Mr. Herren have had a very large turnout, and we hope for the same success.”

Mr. Herren’s 7 p.m. presentation is free and open to the public.

More information on The Herren Project: theherrenproject.org.