GREENVILLE - As Charlie Powers scanned the crowd of more than 75 people seated before him, he could sense the same pain in them that he carries within himself every day.
In the basement of Greenville's First Congregational Church on Thursday evening, Powers stood up to introduce himself, and after just a few words, he had the captivation of every single person in the room.
"Six and a half years ago, my son died from a drug overdose," he said. "I thought the battle was over … we lost."
Powers, speaking as the vice president of the Families Against Narcotics chapter for Ionia and Montcalm counties (I/M FAN), had already experienced what so many in the room were currently going through.
Whether they were addicts themselves, or attending the meeting hoping for one piece of information that could hopefully save the life of a loved one, Powers knew exactly how they felt. His son, Michael, died at the age of 22.
8th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger, chapter president of Families Against Narcotics chapter for Ionia and Montcalm counties, hosted the organization's inaugural meeting.
But now, joined in support by the fellow members of I/M FAN, Powers is determined to make a difference for others.
"… we lost, but I have found a passion to help educate, because I have also seen a number of his friends also pass away," he said. "To know the pain and grief that those parents were going through … it hurt my heart so bad. But the only way to beat this is for these kids to never get addicted. So I have to have a passion to help educate, to save some parents and kids from going through these struggles and challenges that are ahead of them."
FAN began in 2007 as a grassroots organization based in Macomb County starting with a town hall meeting. Since then, the organization has grown, with Ionia/Montcalm becoming the 10th chapter.
For 90 minutes, members of I/M FAN, as well as others in the audience, created a similar town hall atmosphere, sharing stories of addiction and the consequences that followed, but also sharing messages of hope and recovery.
According to 8th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger, who serves as chapter president, the goal moving forward is to help create a better climate in Montcalm and Ionia counties to reduce the recent influx of reported drug cases.
"The purpose of meeting tonight is to provide education, support and prevention of what we are seeing with respect to narcotics in our community," she said. "We firmly believe that we as a community hold the answer in making a difference."
Kreeger, who also oversees a drug court program in both counties, said while the court system has helped many people turn their lives around in recovery, it's not the finite answer to the problem.
With drug court in existence for five years, there are now drug court graduates, and Kreeger wants to engage them and learn from their expertise about what works best for recovery, as well as use the overall experience garnered from drug court to plan for additional support and services.
Families Against Narcotics chapter for Ionia and Montcalm counties Advisory Board member Kristina Richmond speaks on the topic of overcoming the adversity of drug addiction at the organization's inaugural meeting Thursday at First Congregational Church in Greenville.
"We'd much rather be proactive and prevent this, as opposed to having people come through the court system," she said.
Several subcommittees have been formed to work on additional projects, such as how to provide a more seamless transition for addicts leaving jail, due to the fact that the first 24 to 48 hours following release is the time when one is most vulnerable to relapse.
According to I/M FAN Ionia/Montcalm Chapter Secretary, John Kroneck, the information shared Thursday was the start of what will be monthly meetings, the third Thursday of every month at the church from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Based on the results of a survey taken at the end of the evening, Kroneck said future meetings will be centered on a goal of improving the drug climate in Montcalm and Ionia counties.
"We're going to take the information and decide how the year is going to look … you're going to help us set the agenda," he said.
From members of the Michigan State Police to the Montcalm County Jail and even former drug addicts who have since recovered and now hope to share their experiences with others, members of the I/M FAN Advisory Board spent time telling personal stories of how they hope the issues so many are experiencing can one day be a thing of the past.
Belding resident and advisory board member Ann Tyson said she is a firm believer that meetings such as the one held Thursday will lead to better things.
"I've been in recovery for 28 years from alcohol and drugs … and I'm a parent of two struggling recovered adults," she said. "I know that we can make this community much better and start savings lives … we don't want to bury any more children."