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Jane Serrano speaks during a dedication ceremony for the Garden of Faith & Hope at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office in Fitchburg on Thursday

Jane Serrano speaks during a dedication ceremony for the Garden of Faith & Hope at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office in Fitchburg on Thursday morning. Serrano’s son died of an opiate overdose. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE PHOTOS / Anna Burgess

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The Garden of Faith & Hope

By Anna Burgess,

FITCHBURG — Speaking at a dedication ceremony for a garden in memory of people who died from addiction, Nick Barbera said the garden will serve as “a reminder to us all and to the community that addiction is a real battle.”

“It’s affected everybody here,” said Barbera, who is director of external programs for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s affected everybody I know.”

On Thursday afternoon, law-enforcement and court officials, the families of addicts in recovery, and the families of addicts who have died gathered in the small park outside Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis’ satellite office in Fitchburg.

Whereas last week there was a ring of trees surrounding sparse grass and concrete pathways, on Thursday there was a beautiful tribute to those who have died from addiction.

In a bed of fresh mulch were tomato plants and various flowers, along with homemade plaques bearing names of those who died battling addiction: Cathy, Jack, Jason, Nicole.

Called the Garden of Faith & Hope, the project was the brainchild of Community Corrections Program Director Mark Leary and recovering addicts.

“We thought, ‘this is a beautiful place,’ and we thought we’d make it for people struggling with addiction and in memory of people who died from addiction,” Leary said. “We wanted to bring the garden alive and the park alive.”

Families of people who died battling addiction wrote inspirational quotes and messages of hope, faith, and peace around the garden.

Ronnie Serrano and his wife, Jane, who started the nonprofit Preventing Addiction Resources Team after their son died of an opiate overdose, spoke of the stigma of addiction.

“My son was more than just another addict,” Jane Serrano said. “My son was a beautiful soul that will no longer be walking here on earth.”

Michelle Dunn, who founded the local chapter of support organization Learn to Cope after her daughter died of an overdose, also offered her perspective.

“I can’t imagine going through something worse than losing a child, especially in such a tragic way,” she said, but added that every day, they live to honor her daughter’s life.

The garden dedication also served as a graduation ceremony for nine people finishing the Community Corrections Center substance-abuse recovery program.

Leary said the difference between the graduates on Thursday and on the day they started the program is “the most amazing transformation you’ll ever see.”

“When somebody is fighting addiction, to see them take a step forward is a wonderful thing,” Barbera said.

Jane Serrano and Dunn said they were proud of the graduates, and glad to see hope for recovery.

“People really do recover,” Dunn said. “Each and every day you wake up and make the decision to not use is a good day.”

Evangelidis said in a statement that the dedication “represents a community effort, all of us working together to do all we can to prevent another tragedy and young life lost to opiates. My heart goes out to the families who have lost a loved one to addiction and I am proud of our graduates who are now on the road to recovery and a better life.”