From left: Paula Olvera, Ron Van Ausdal, and Judi Trask, part of the team at Lifeways which puts on Hands Around the Park. (LILIANA FRANKEL/The Enterprise)

ONTARIO – Ontario’s Laxson Park bumped with family-friendly songs, the happy cries of children, and the periodic splashes of the dunk tank last week as prevention advocates hosted the 17th annual Hands Around the Park event. 

The event on Thursday, Sept. 16, is meant as a show of community solidarity with those in recovery from mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. It was canceled last year for Covid.

This year, it returned in full force – with some modifications. 

A few attendees wore face masks. And the moment which gave the event its name – during which attendees would join hands around the park’s perimeter – was replaced by the chance to stand alongside one another with social distancing between participants as the Serenity Prayer was recited.

Attendees also took a lap around the park together in honor of recovery and the recovery community.

Judi Trask, Malheur County prevention coordinator and one of the event’s organizers, said she was happy with how the community supported the event. 

The event also included 37 organizations with a table at the event. They represented many sectors in Ontario, from recovery groups to behavioral and physical health to faith groups to community assistance.

Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero, Sheriff Brian Wolfe, District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe and Malheur Circuit Court Judge Erin Landis all volunteered their time as well.

Trask said it was a “great gathering of resources for people that are available.”

“We’re all here for the same cause,” she said. 

Ron Van Ausdal, outpatient program administrator at Lifeways, said that the event has grown over the years. 

It was important, he said, “to show people in recovery that they are supported” and “to show people that people can recover from mental health and substance abuse disorders.” 

Attendees circled around the booths, collecting free takeaway items and informational leaflets, and enjoyed free hot dogs, chips, cookies and drinks.

Nathaniel Stringer and Paula Olvera were recognized with awards that honored their service to the recovery community. 

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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