We all have a role to play in curbing the ongoing drug epidemic wreaking havoc in our community across Ocean County, Monmouth County, and New Jersey.

You don't have to be battling an addiction or personally know someone who is to play a significant role in helping others -- you just have to have the heart and desire to make a difference, to spread awareness and education on the dangers of drugs and in having compassion and hope for those struggling with the disease and helping them find the road to recovery.

Hope Sheds Light is a non-profit organization based right here in Ocean County that has been helping and continues to be there for those battling the disease of drug addiction as well as their parents and families working together for a healthier, better future.

Ron Rosetto and Steve Willis who co-founded Hope Sheds Light (along with Arvo Prima) and CEO Pam Capaci joined Dave Crossan and me yesterday morning on 'Shore Time with Vin and Dave' on 94.3ThePoint and 105.7TheHawk -- which is on Sundays from 6-8 am -- to discuss their mission and how they continue to help people.

All three of Hope Sheds Light's co-founders saw firsthand what the disease of drug addiction could do to the individual as well as their parents and families.

Ron, Steve, and Arvo all have lost a son to their battles with drug addiction.

"My son, Marc Rosetto, passed away in 2012 (at the age of 32) and he'd been struggling with addiction for probably 15-years, if not longer, and the typical -- in and out of rehabs, detox centers, and just trying to get him help," Rosetto said. "(It was) the typical parent enabling their child trying to fix what was wrong and we just lost control. I mean, between his addiction with pills and then eventually it led to opiates and heroin -- which ultimately killed him."

Ron said that he was in Florida in November of 2012 and suddenly got a call that Marc had passed away.

"Trying to get home was just a nightmare," Rosetto said. "The struggle is certainly real and we didn't want to see any other parent have to go through the years of pain and struggle like we did -- myself, Steve Willis, and our other co-founder Arvo Prima -- all three of our sons had passed away, unfortunately, and it's just a horrible family disease that doesn't just affect the addict, it affects the entire family. We were sick for many years going up and down like a rollercoaster."

In an effort to try and get his son Marc back on the right track, Ron made the tough decision to give his oldest son tough love.

"I stopped enabling him and changed the locks and asked him to leave -- and soon after that he had passed away," Rosetto said. "Unfortunately, I had two sons that were addicted, but the Hope side of the story is he's (his youngest son) been clean now for 14-years and is successful, I'm extremely proud of him, he's doing great, but I lost my other son because he just wouldn't do what was necessary to help his disease."

It was an extremely difficult decision Ron had to make to try and get his son's help in fighting the disease.

"It was very difficult, I mean, it took years. Any parent that loves their child is going to enable and you're going to try and do whatever you can, which we did, between detox centers and rehabs and that, lasted for years," Rosetto said. "Then finally what happens is you just get worn down and you run out of money. You're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to save your child, you're refinancing your house trying to save your child to get him into one more rehab because maybe this is it, this is the secret, maybe he'll cure himself. The ignorance that I had in the beginning -- I was like any other parent, you love your child, you want to help them and get them back on track again."

Then came the decision to ask his son to leave the house.

"I changed the locks and I basically threw my son out of the house, I said, you can't live here anymore, you're not welcome, you were stealing from your mother, your grandmother, you're not going to be doing drug deals out your bedroom window in the middle of the night -- I've had it," Rosetto said. "Police used to come to my house at 3-o'clock in the morning knocking on my door and you wake up and when you look out the window and you see two police officers at your front door, you think your child overdosed and you catch your breath, open the door, and just hope they're not going to tell you 'I'm sorry, your son passed away', and I just couldn't live like that anymore."

(Photo: Pam Capaci/Hope Sheds Light)
(Photo: Pam Capaci/Hope Sheds Light)

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When he was kicked out, it's not known where exactly Marc was living and during that time as well, there was no communication.

"We didn't talk for probably months and finally he started to come around, I think he might have been taking methadone or suboxone and he was okay for a few months and after that, I just noticed he went back to his old ways again," Rosetto said. "It was scary, and I said, 'Marc, you're high' 'No, I'm not', -- how do you know an addict's lying, they open their mouth -- and at that point, it was just all downhill until I got that phone call that he overdosed and passed away."

Ron tried a similar approach for help and treatment with his younger son.

"When I asked him to leave, six months later there was a knock on the door and it was my younger son, he said 'Dad, I'm not going to do this anymore, I'm tired of it, I want to have a life', and that was 14-15-years ago," Rosetto said. "Today, he's married, has two beautiful daughters, he has a career -- I'm extremely proud of what he's done because that was not easy but he did it, and thank God he did it, and that's the Hope side of it."

It was 10-months after Ron's son Marc passed away that Steve Willis' son Mark passed away, in September of 2013, at the age of 32-years-old. Arvo Prima's son Paavo passed away in April of 2017 at the age of 26-years old.

"My journey with addiction started when my son was 12-13-years-old -- he would be 40 now," Willis said. "We (he and his wife) didn't really know what to do, we didn't know what resources were available, we were kind of flailing around trying to find help."

It took a toll on the entire Willis family.

"We got really sick as parents. My story is that I tried to fix my son, I spent the first year when he started using at 13 trying to fix him and that's what parents do, right -- but I was so focused on fixing him that I wasn't paying attention to other aspects of my life that kept me healthy like my wife and my daughter and my business as counsel," Willis said. "None of that seemed to matter because Mark was so sick and I believed, early on, without learning about addiction that I had the power to fix him because the first 12-years as a Dad, I was okay at it, but nothing worked, and it was horrible."

Hope Sheds Light Co-Founder Steve Willis speaking at 4th annual Hope Sheds Light Celebration of Hope Walk. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)
Hope Sheds Light Co-Founder Steve Willis speaking at 4th annual Hope Sheds Light Celebration of Hope Walk. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)

Willis was trying to think of some way, any way to get his son back on track.

"What I ended up doing when it became very clear in my life that nothing I did as a Dad was going to work -- Mark wasn't listening at all and he was actively using, he dropped out of sports in school, wasn't going to church with us, and just, wasn't listening period, it became really scary -- what I ended up doing, personally, was pressing charges against my son," Willis said. "My reasoning was simple, it started with the fact that I love my son very much, but it was so clear that I couldn't effectuate a meaningful consequence to help him get well, whatever I did, didn't work. I'm an attorney by trade and I knew the legal system, and I thought, well, I need some help."

He pressed charges against his son for possession of drugs and theft and hoped that the judge presiding over the case would force Mark into getting help, treatment, or go to jail.

"As long as my son was structured by the legal system, by the way, he started to get better because he really didn't like the consequence of going to jail," Willis said. "And, it worked, for a bit."

Sadly, Mark would later lose his battle with addiction.

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Ron Rosetto had reached out to Steve Willis following the passing of his own son and had the idea to start a non-profit that would help individuals battling addiction and families and parents like them, theirs along the way as well.

"When Ron called and he said 'help me start a non-profit', I asked him what he had in mind, of course, and he said, 'well, let's provide a list of resources to the community so that people don't have to worry or wonder where to go if they're struggling with addiction if they're getting sick themselves'," Willis said. "The original idea was to create a website that would say inpatient's and outpatients and support groups and family therapists."

In addition to providing those resources, Willis suggested also providing a helpline where people like them volunteering with and for Hope Sheds Light could be there for people struggling in the community.

Sometime later, Ron, Steve, and Arvo interviewed some people who could help them carry out their mission of building and running a non-profit.

In came Pam Capaci who continues to share her expertise and vision to help with the mission of Hope Sheds Light.

"I've been in the field across the full continuum, both in providing treatment services as a substance abuse counselor back in the beginning of my career, (and), spent a long time as the CEO of a large prevention agency up in Union County," Capaci said.

In each case, each battle with addiction takes its own time, there is no exact date but there is always hope and there is always Help.

"The disease is not something that a parent can control and the decision, unfortunately, as to how long you want to stay in the chaos of active addiction versus not staying in it is personal and can take 10-years, can take -- never," Capaci said. "I think what we do at our family support meetings is allow other family members to share their experience, their strength, and their hope regarding that process. Some parents never ask their kids to leave and they come home, we have parents who've come home and found their children dead on their couch, and we've had parents who've never asked their kids to leave and their kids are in long-term recovery. The narrative here needs to be what we have to advocate for a better system of care and I think that's what Hope Sheds Light really was started for -- these guys (Ron, Steve, Arvo) were introducing a new resource, a peer-to-peer family and individual organization is driven by individuals who just have lived experience."

You can listen to the full conversation Dave Crossan and I had with Ron Rosetto, Steve Willis, and Pam Capaci on 'Shore Time with Vin and Dave' Sunday, right here.

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