BATAVIA – Small crowds moved among the vendors and silent auction items at the Batavia Riverwalk Saturday afternoon while a live band played, some ran a 5K while others walked a mile.
The Sixth Annual Chris' Walk Against Substance Abuse is a remembrance of Vicki Foley's son Chris, who died of a heroin overdose at 27 in 2007. But it is an awareness campaign, a call to action and a place where those affected by addiction can get support.
Foley, of St. Charles, hosts the walk so other families would not have to suffer the same loss she has.
Speakers included Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez and Coroner Rob Russell – and a recovering heroin addict Penny Hammersley, 32.
"By the grace of God, this Monday, I'll have a year sober," Hammersley said as the crowd applauded. "This has affected me since I was 13. It doesn't just affect me. It affects my family, my friends, everything I do. This drug, this disease, does not discriminate. It doesn't matter what your background is, where you come from or what your background is, if you're rich, poor, homeless, good family, bad family, abuse, support, love, hate – if it has you, it will destroy you. It takes your soul."
Hammersley, of DeKalb, said she found support in a 12-step program. Her message for other addicts is, they are not alone and help is available.
Perez praised Foley for bringing so many together to bring awareness to the problem of heroin addiction. Kane County has tallied 10 heroin overdose deaths so far this year.
"Our goal is to eradicate heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine – the drugs that are just ravaging us," Perez said. "And as hard as we fight this war, as much as we are looking out for each other, it's really sad if you read in the newspapers to see that DuPage County, our next-door neighbor is averaging one overdose death a week so far this year … Lake County is being ravaged. Will County is being ravaged."
Perez said his office continually tries to educate the public about heroin abuse.
"The thing that is disappointing to me, personally, is how many seminars for parents throughout Kane County, in targeted areas that have the highest heroin use rate and … and 20 parents show up," Perez said. "And we know it's an epidemic. And It just breaks our hearts that there is not more involvement."
Perez described heroin as a scourge that "knows no socioeconomic bounds. The drug doesn't care who you are, how much money you make, what family you come from. And we need to get people to understand, we can stop this – but it's going to take an effort by all of us."
As a retired sergeant from DuPage County, Russell said he knows how important drug education is in curbing heroin use.
"I have some ideas, but I need some more," Russell said. "I hope you will give me a call."
Valerie Kommu, 35, Chris Foley's sister, said she hopes the annual event educates other families so they would not go through what her family did during her brother's 10-year battle with addiction.
"We can celebrate his life by helping pass on the torch to other families that need help with addiction," Kommu said. "Pretty much everyone knows somebody who has an addiction. But sometimes they're embarrassed and it's nothing to be embarrassed about ... We're doing this to speak out."