March 1, 2024

Dear JFCS Family,

As I write to you today, I am thinking of my friends and family who struggle with drug use and addiction.

I remember learning about drug use growing up. I grew up in the time of Just Say No. The fact that our children and grandchildren are still struggling with these issues is a sad fact of life. However, make no mistake, that drug use and substance abuse impacts everyone regardless of age, life stage, background, religion, and economy. In fact, this year alone, 50% of people over the age of 12 have used illegal drugs and almost 14% have used drugs in the last month.

These statistics are scary, but they are even scarier amongst our children. Did you know that 5% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders and 24% of 12th graders have used drugs within their high school career? That means that in 1 in every 4 seniors are using illegal drugs right now.

One year before coming to JFCS, I lost a classmate to an overdose. He still lived in my hometown and had gone missing. We couldn’t find him, but we knew he had struggled with sobriety and drug use for a long time. After several days, hours of looking and many Facebook posts, they found my friend in a home in Philadelphia – he had passed away from an overdose.  

So, when I came to JFCS, I was no stranger to the issues of drug use and the tragedies that are left in the path of this evil disease of addiction. But as I learned our work and our commitment to the mental and safety of our community, the fight against addiction became that much clearer and even more personal.

I want to tell you a story of one of our JFCS family members and community leaders, Gregg Wolfe. On December 19, 2012, Gregg suffered an unimaginable loss when his beloved son Justin died suddenly from a heroin overdose, at just 21 years of age.  He summoned the strength to forge ahead through a mission of educating others, with the hope that no other families would have to experience similar devastation. 

Towards that end, in 2014, Gregg partnered with Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) to develop and launch an awareness and prevention program focused on educating tweens, teens, and parents about the epidemic of addiction in the suburbs.  Working in tandem with JFCS to bring together impacted individuals, addiction professionals, and local law enforcement, Gregg provided financial support and his most precious commodity of time, speaking at nearly every panel presentation.  This important program, One Step at a Time, is charged with helping to educate our community with the sole mission of preventing drug use! It is designed to change and save lives.

While it took an emotional toll, Gregg remains steadfast in his commitment to reduce stigma, promote conversation, and normalize the ‘ask for help.’ To date, the One Step at a Time (OSAT) program of JFCS (formerly titled Right In Our Backyard) has educated over 9,797 individuals through 96 presentations to middle schools, high schools, synagogues, churches, municipal alliances, and community-based organizations, and is currently going strong in its 10th year of programming.

I count myself incredibly blessed to work with leaders like Gregg whose strength and fortitude has saved lives and prevented others from suffering a loss.  To Marla Myers, Meredith Cohen, the Cherry Hill Police Department, Ilana Dombrowolski and others who created this amazing life-saving program, we thank you. Today, Emily Witmier, Cheryl Herzfeld and Rebecca Rosenau continue the legacy and ensure that thousands of teens annually receive this important information that will change and save their lives.

Now the responsibility to fight addiction is a collective one. We must fight for change because together our work will save lives and ensure that no one else is needlessly lost to drug use and addiction.

If you want to find out what more you can do, or you are interested in hearing more about One Step at a Time and how to host this important program in your school, club program (scouts) or place of worship, please reach out to us. A flyer is attached. If you want to share your story with us, we are here for you.

Wishing you peace and love this Shabbat and always,

Raechel Hammer