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Community in Crisis in Bernardsville

A parent-to-parent support group is helping families share their stories and giving them the resources they need to navigate substance use disorders in a safe and trusting environment.

The nation’s opioid crisis hit home for Dorothy DeCota one day in 2014 when her son Matthew texted to say there was something he needed to discuss at dinner. That’s when the DeCotas learned their son had a drug problem.

“What drug are you on?” Dorothy asked him.

“Heroin,” Matt replied.

Fast forward to 2018. Matt, now 28, has been clean for four years. As in all addiction situations, though, it’s still “one day at a time” — and “Dotty” DeCota believes that she is handling it much better thanks to the parent-to-parent support group at Community in Crisis in Bernardsville.

“As a parent, you never know what to expect with this disease,” she says.

Dotty and her husband, David, quickly found that they could tell other parents their hopes and fears in a safe and trusting environment, or just listen. “The person running the sessions would say, ‘If you feel comfortable sharing your story, you may’,” Dotty recalls.

  Community in Crisis in Bernardsville


[The video opens with the text #8220;Healthier Together℠” appearing on screen above the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey logo. The screen transitions to the text, “Community in Crisis: Providing Opioid Prevention, Awareness and Education” and Dotty DeCota begins speaking. As Dotty speaks, the video transitions through several interactions between Dotty and her adult son, Matthew.]

[Dotty DeCota] I participated in the Community in Crisis. They had a program for parents, and it was a parent support group. My son had come to us to tell us that he was an addict. My view of this is so different than it was almost four years ago. When someone comes into a Community in Crisis meeting, and they’re saying that their child was just sent to a rehab center, I feel like I can give them so much information. And when they hear that my son is clean almost four years they’re blown away.

Over the months and years of attending the meetings, Dotty remembers going from feeling like a “deer in the headlights” to actively giving advice to parents just starting their journey.

She says the group “feels like a family to us now.”

Bernardsville helps defy stereotypes about drug use. The borough of under 8,000 has the state’s 10th highest per capita income and is more than 90% White.

Former first lady Jaqueline Kennedy lived there when she was married to Aristotle Onassis.

That kind of local profile can make it harder for parents to face up to their plight. When Dotty saw an ad for Community in Crisis in the local paper, she first called Jodi D’Agostini, Executive Director of Community in Crisis, for advice, but was reluctant to come to meetings. Dotty knew she needed more information to support Matt but feared the stigma his drug use could have in a small suburban town where everyone knows everyone.

“I can’t come out and tell people what’s going on in my life right now,” she remembers thinking. She didn’t want parents in town to pull their children from the gymnastics business she ran at the time. Now, she recruits other parents to attend Community in Crisis sessions and helps the nonprofit organization raise money.

In keeping with its mission to support organizations that make New Jersey healthier, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey provided Community in Crisis with a $100,000 grant to fund the sessions Dotty attends as well as opioid prevention awareness education and a community wellness center.

The organization was founded in partnership with the Somerset Hills YMCA in 2014 after several local young adults died from opioid overdoses. Jodi, now the board chair and president, was moved to create the organization after her daughter, who lost two friends to opioid deaths.

“How many more people are we going to lose before someone does something about it?” Jodi asked.

Matt now lives with his parents and is working in construction. He wishes more parents of young people battling addiction could get what his parents got from Community in Crisis.

“It was awesome to know my mom was getting that support,” he says. “A lot of people going through the same thing I was didn’t have the support back home that I had.”