RINGWOOD, N.J. – On Christmas day in 2011, Rebecca Conroy’s best friend died of a heroin overdose.
“You never ever would have expected her to turn to drugs,” Conroy said of Kylie Gnehm, of Ringwood, who died at just 22.
Conroy, of the Haskell section of Wanaque, said Gnehm was one of the first few people she knew around her age to die of a heroin overdose, but sadly, that count has now reached about 12.
“It was literally every couple months,” she said. “Like we couldn’t mourn one friend, and we were at another funeral already,” she said.
Conroy decided she had to do something to help prevent more deaths.
“I just couldn’t stay quiet when Kylie died,” said Conroy. “She was such a good person.”
With the help of Dr. Raymond Danzinger, Conroy’s advisor at Lakeland Regional High School, she created Young Adults Against Substance Abuse (YAASA). The organization is focused on prevention and ending the stigma of addiction.
Conroy, and others impacted by heroin, share their stories with local high school students.
“I try to stress to them that telling on a friend if they are using, you might lose that friendship for the time being, but it is better to lose that than to lose them for good,” Conroy said.
To raise funds and awareness, YAASA is holding its fourth annual polar bear plunge at Cupsaw Lake in Ringwood on Sunday, April 2, at 12 p.m. The event – which will be held rain or shine – will include music, food and face painting, Conroy said. There will also be warming tents and hot chocolate for plungers and activities for all ages in the clubhouse, she said.
She said YAASA is trying to create more “sober fun days” like the polar bear plunge to give young people things to do that don’t involve drugs.
Helping others has helped Conroy through the loss of her best friend. “If I was just sitting around doing nothing about the problem, it would hurt so much more,” she said.
For more information on YAASA and its polar bear plunge, visit its Facebook page, HERE .