Hello, my name is Lauren Pinka, and I would like to share a personal story of heartache, love, and hope. On July 6th, 2016, I lost my son James to a drug overdose. James was only 19 years old and had been struggling with drug addiction for several years. The last eight months of James’ life was probably his best, having made tremendous progress in his journey to sobriety, gaining back friends and fulfilling employment. James’ journey ended when one very poor choice took his life. His fatal decision launched my family and I into a journey of our own. An unexpected, horrific journey we never chose to navigate. No one can possibly be prepared for the roller-coaster ride of emotions one experiences after losing a child. The daunting days shortly after James’ passing was almost too much to bear. I couldn’t go to a supermarket, a restaurant, or any social gathering because I couldn’t handle the stares or the awkward conversations I was forced to endure with anyone who knew me. My first day back at work in early September, I ran out of the faculty meeting in tears, unable to handle the crowd. Friends suggested grief counseling and I was fortunate enough to find the Neighborhood House. I joined my first eight-week session in mid-September with a lot of trepidation that was quickly replaced by a sense of belonging.
The Neighborhood House provides a haven for anyone who has a lost a loved one to drug overdose or suicide. Unlike other bereavement groups that meet once a week in a hospital or library setting, the Neighborhood House is a unique program that provides a home-cooked dinner prepared by volunteers at the beginning of every session, small group counseling with peers, and art therapy, which is the most delightful way to express yourself while honoring your loved one. The Neighborhood House quickly became my anchor and has given me the necessary tools to navigate my grief, while also restoring my sense of hope for healing and happiness. I continue to ride this emotional roller-coaster, but I am no longer alone. I have my Neighborhood House family seated beside me and with all the twists and turns and sometimes the loops, I can now look to my left or right and know that someone who shares this same journey is there to grab my hand.
The Neighborhood House threw me a lifeline when I needed it most and although my journey is not over I would like to change its course by placing one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. I will be running the New York Marathon on Sunday, November 5th, 2017 in my son’s name, while raising money and awareness for the Neighborhood House. With a goal of $5,000, I would like to help the Neighborhood House expand its programs and its reach. I am asking for donations of any amount. Help me help the Neighborhood House and join me on this new journey of hope.