Prevention, recovery spotlighted in walk for HOPE
The families of Qwinn Ballard and Kyle Sundo doubt the men ever met in life. But an anti-drug march in Ballard's name this weekend will bring together those who knew them in an effort to combat drug deaths.
Ballard of Harrison died April 26 at the age of 24. Misused opiate pills killed him.
Sundo, who grew up in Freeport, was 21 when heroin killed him April 24.
“Qwinn became addicted to pain pills after surgery,” said his mother, Melissa Vrotney. “He wasn't a troublemaker.”
He was a nursing assistant and enjoyed helping others, Vrotney said, recalling a story that she said describes him best.
“One of the nursing home residents was dying. Her relatives were on the way from out of state,” she said. “Qwinn completed his shift and then sat with the woman, holding her hand — eight hours — until the next morning when he had to leave for a few hours of rest before his next shift.”
Sundo, who was described as a helpful, caring person, died five days before his 22nd birthday. He was an only child.
“He was a giving person from a loving family and he loved the outdoors. But this monster had ahold of him. He just couldn't get away from the monster,” his mother, Jeannie Sundo of Harrison, said.
“He was in and out of rehab,” she said. “But once heroin gets hold of you. ...”
Qwinn's Walk for HOPE is Saturday.
HOPE stands for Help Overdose Prevention with Education. The anti-drug march starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Brackenridge Gazebo along First Avenue.
The march will proceed to the Tarentum pavilion, where a program of speakers and anti-drug educators will start at 6.
The walk was put together by Melissa Vrotney and two of her longtime friends, Jenn McCurdy and Brandi Brukner.
Dozens of people have joined the campaign since it was announced on Facebook.
At least 500 family, friends and others have said they will march, including hundreds who have purchased colorful T-shirts to celebrate Qwinn and Kyle's lives.
They're also raising money so HOPE can continue to have an impact in the Alle-Kiski Valley. The organization is not affiliated with the Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center, a shelter for abused women that is based in Tarentum.
Tarentum Mayor Carl Magnetta will give opening remarks, and speakers include Phillip Little, who does education and outreach for the state attorney general's regional office.
Other speakers include Carmen Capozzi, who started the Irwin-based Sage's Army after his son, Sage, died; New Kensington drug counselor VonZell Wade; and Laurie Martin of Nar-Anon.
Numerous drug counselors will be present to answer questions.
Recovery success stories will be presented and a candlelight vigil is scheduled.
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer.