In the community

Hands Around the Park event raises awareness about addiction recovery

ONTARIO – About two years ago Ontario resident Debi Ann Gavin faced daunting life challenges.
Recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Gavin also knew her daughter, Alicia Pillatzke, was falling into addiction.
PIllatzke’s addiction became so acute, Gavin stepped in to take care of her then-infant granddaughter.
It was a dark time, said Gavin. She continued chemotherapy while caring for her granddaughter. She received help from the state for daycare and urged her daughter to get treatment.
Fast-forward to last Thursday, Sept. 15, and Gavin stood on a cement basketball court at Ontario’s Laxson Rotary Park and watched her daughter – now sober for more than 300 days – play with her daughter.
Gavin and her daughter and granddaughter were on hand for the 18th Annual Hands Around the Park.
The event, sponsored by a host of local agencies, including Lifeways and the Malheur County Prevention Coalition, was intended to applaud and celebrate those who have recovered or are in recovery from a drug, alcohol or other addiction such as gambling.
Food, music and fun were available as children hustled about flying kites or drawing images or writing positive messages with chalk across the basketball court.
For Gavin, Hands Around the Park was a key plot point in a long journey to bring her daughter back from the edge.
“We are excited to be here,” she said.

Alicia Pillatzke and her daughter Lincoln (left) use chalk to draw images on the basketball court at Laxson Rotary Park during the Hands Around the Park event Sept. 15. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Gavin said the event is one way to help those grappling with addiction.
“Maybe someone is struggling and they’ll come along here and they can get help,” she said.
People who fall into addiction can recover, said Rick Reyna, an Ontario Police Department officer as he stood by the dunk tank where just moments before he was dumped into a vat of cold water. Reyna volunteered for the tank duty.
“They can be successful. People can change. Folks struggling with addiction, this gives them hope,” he said.
Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, spoke at the event and said after her presentation that Hands Around the Park sets an example of what is possible for those suffering from addiction.

Booths, people and fun marked the 18th Annual Hands Around the Park event Sept. 15 in Ontario. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“This visibly celebrates recovery and a big part of it is allowing people to show them their story of success,” said Poe. “Recovery is an absolute possibility and life in recovery is pretty good.”
Poe said events such as Hands Around the Park are a “small part of the treatment puzzle.”
“We need less drugs and more treatment in the community,” said Poe.
For Gavin, the ultimate reward was the image of her daughter and granddaughter playing on the concrete basketball court.
“This is a great day. My daughter is 388 days sober – how can you not be excited?” said Gavin.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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