A mission of hope
ISLIP TOWN—On Monday, Jan. 11, residents are encouraged to attend a special event hosted by former NBA player Chris Herren at the Trinity Lutheran Church on Nassau Avenue. The free talk, titled “Rebound – The Chris Herren Story,” will focus on Herren’s cautionary tale of the pitfalls of drug addiction and dependence along with his own miraculous recovery and new life mission.
While growing up in Fall River, Massachusetts, Herren dreamed of one day playing for his favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics. In high school, he was an All-American, broke scoring records, was recruited by elite colleges, featured in Sports Illustrated, and became one of the main subjects of a heralded book, “Fall River Dreams.” Eventually, Herren’s dream of playing in the NBA came true when he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1999 and traded to the Celtics after his rookie season.
However, Herren’s NBA career was cut short due to recurring substance abuse issues, which led to his release from the Celtics. A series of trials and tribulations ultimately led him to rehab, and he has been alcohol and drug free since Aug. 1, 2008. Since then, he has refocused his life to prioritize his sobriety and family above all else. He has shared his story of abuse and recovery in his memoir, “Basketball Junkie,” along with a range of interviews throughout the Emmy-nominated ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, “Unguarded,” which is centered on his life story.
“My story is about choices and consequences that you pay for later on in life,” said Herren before a talk at the University of Mississippi. “I believe that a lot of athletes today will struggle with alcoholism or addiction later in life although they don’t see it now. Numbers and studies prove that, and I believe they need to hear the message more.”
Herren is also the founder of The Herren Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing treatment navigation and mentoring programs to those touched by addiction and to educate people of all ages on the dangers of substance abuse. In 2012, The Herren Project launched a national anti-substance abuse campaign, Project Purple, to encourage people of all ages to stand up to substance abuse. He now resides in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, with his wife and three children.
“I’ve traveled all across the country and dedicated my life… to sharing my story,” said Herren during another talk at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “I do it to make a difference. I do it to prevent one kid, one family, from going down the road that I went down.”
Reverend Michael Staneck, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, said that the idea to recruit Herren came from feedback gathered through a program named “Planting Gospel Seeds While Serving Human Needs.” The program—designed to help congregations develop ways to help their neighbors break destructive cycles like poverty and struggle—is part of Trinity’s ongoing community outreach efforts.
“We talked to neighbors along with town and school officials, and one of the biggest problems they noted was the heroin epidemic in Islip Town,” said Staneck. “We see and hear of our youth getting involved with drugs, particularly heroin. So we wanted to do something that could possibly help shed some light on that, and we’ve asked Chris to share his story of recovery and hope.”
Staneck said that Herren’s tale and words of wisdom could help deter young athletes from making the same mistakes he did.
“He grew up a hometown hero,” said Staneck, who saw Herren speak at Manhasset High School last year. “A typical weekend for him—much like young people today—was hanging out in basements with red solo cups, which turned into a lot more as the years went on.”
However, Staneck noted that Herren’s story could also resonate with other people from all ages and backgrounds.
“People think that heroin is just for a certain class of people, but he turns that notion on its head,” said Staneck, who noted that there would be social workers and counselors on hand at the event as well. “It could be anyone, even people who look like they’re very successful. His message is that it could happen to you, a family member, or your next-door neighbor. He says, ‘here’s what I went through, and here’s how you can get away from it.’”
This is the first time Trinity is hosting an event of this nature, and Staneck said that it is aiming to bring more in the future.
“This is just the first of many programs we hope to offer the community, and we hope that Trinity can be an ongoing source of help with this problem,” said Staneck. “As a church, we want to show our neighbors what the love of Jesus looks like, and not just talk about it.”
To register for the event, visit www.trinityislip.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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