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Embracing the positive

"If Only," a film produced by Jim Wahlberg about the opiods epidemic, premiered earlier in June. Source: Wahl St. Productions

“If Only,” a film produced by Jim Wahlberg about the opiods epidemic, premiered earlier in June. Source: Wahl St. Productions

Recently I’ve become more inspired by people doing good works on a small scale, committing their grit and sweat to bring about change. While working on larger platforms is vital and requires foot soldiers at the grassroots level, I also appreciate those who work day to day without grandiose schemes and battering egos to help us progress.    

I’d like to share three examples of people doing heart work here with both local and far-reaching implications. Each of these may lift us in different ways.

* In neighboring Plymouth, Mass., a small group including young moms and a friend gather around a dining room table. They are organizing a PMC Kids Ride for the third year, an event in the nearby state forest that gives children a way to help raise money for cancer research and patient care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Coordinator Katie Dayie, who has three children herself and is flush with energy, set a goal to raise $15,000 for the cause, and hopes to get at least 65 riders. Surrounded by stacked bins filled with crayons, magic markers, garment pens and other supplies, a half dozen volunteers chipped in their ideas. This year, children will be asked to design a “I Ride For …” placard that will be attached to their bike. There will also be a decoration station, cancer ribbons, a radio station broadcast, and other arts and crafts.      

Sustained by this energy and commitment, The PMC Kids Ride – Plymouth on Sunday, June 28 is a guaranteed success. Third-grader by sixth-grader, it will help the Pan Mass Challenge bike-a-thon meet its goal of contributing a cumulative $500 million to DFCI.

Everyday people standing up during challenging times.

* Last week, a father whose son lost his long struggle to opiods addiction spoke to some parents and other adults touched by this epidemic. Barely 14 months into his grief, Tony LaGreca has researched the underlying causes of addiction, such as the crush of prescriptions written for so-called pain management. He has become an activist, donning a “Fed Up” T-shirt over his white button-down shirt, which references a rally he attended with others concerned about
painkiller and opiate addiction.

LaGreca’s audience was small at Hope Floats Healing & Wellness Center, a bereavement center my wife and I started in 2008. We had expected more parents in the community seeking information or interested in a father’s experience would come out. Perhaps the barriers, like the stigma many parents feel, are just too high.

Yet Tony is committed to speaking out. He will continue advocating for the government to take more effective steps such as opening more treatment centers. More beds. Longer stays to support recovery, such as 60 days, rather than the “spin-cycle” of 30 days, as one participant noted. And continuing to spread the word to parents: beware of the physicians, dentists, and others whose prescriptions to manage pain initiate a lethal dependency.

Tony also shared a small role he played in an upcoming indie film that’s bound to help spread the word. If Only” which premiered last week, follows the story of two teenage boys who experiment with and become addicted to drugs. The movie was produced by Jim Wahlberg, brother of actor Mark Wahlberg. 

LaGreca was among scores of Massachusetts residents who have lost loved ones to drug addiction asked to be extras in the film. This January, he and other relatives drove in a snowstorm to a Catholic church in Tewksbury, where Jim Wahlberg’s crew was filming. Everyone was asked to dress for a funeral Mass. They carried photographs of their loved ones, sitting as mourners for the scene. They had to do five or six retakes.

As LaGreca continues reaching out and spreading his advocacy, others will certainly benefit. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

* Then there those who try to live the maxim, “Think globally, act locally.”

Maybe it’s partly because I feel the need to shift my own life to be more holistic, ideally more sustainable and spiritual, but I find myself refreshed by scientists, activists, and everyday Joes committed to green causes. Such as the growing voices warning us about the poisoning of the oceans; the importance of restoring saltwater marshes that are such crucial buffers and filters of carbon; and returning estuaries and inlets to their traditional food-producing role. Co-existing with these respected resources, rather than treating them as our waste dumps.

Within this greater context, an ongoing regional concern for those of us in southern New England: the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

The latest news: Environmental groups issue call to terminate Pilgrim’s water permit.

It is well documented that Entergy’s operation of Pilgrim causes massive marine destruction and pollution of Cape Cod Bay, according to the group Cape Cod Bay Watch.  This week, a state-wide coalition of two dozen public health and environmental groups called on state and federal regulators to terminate the Clean Water Act permit for Entergy’s outdated “once through” cooling water system at Pilgrim nuclear.

Saying that U.S. EPA and MassDEP had dragged their feet for too long, the groups cited a report showing that Entergy’s permit expired 19 years ago and is based on outdated technology from the 1960s.

The report reveals the contents of thousands of pages of internal agency documents and relies on Entergy’s own reports showing the destruction of marine life-from fish to plankton that is a food source for North Atlantic right whales. It also documents the wastefulness of Entergy’s operation, showing that Pilgrim operates at only 33% efficiency.

This may seem like a quixotic fight to some. To me, it’s another example to me of everyday people standing up during challenging times.

Author’s note: A different version of this post appears in Ken’s regular column in Psychology Today online.

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