Flagler Open Arms Recovery Services is a 2-year-old nonprofit that provides peer support services, public education on substance use disorder, community outreach and policy advocacy
Shaun Skelton stood against a palm tree at Veterans Park in Flagler Beach. He was shirtless, displaying tattoos on his arms and torso, and taking in the sites at a Sept. 18 festival.
This festival was put on by Flagler Open Arms Recovery Services to build awareness for National Recovery Month.
Skelton said he attended the event to connect with others who are taking positive steps toward recovery from alcoholism and substance abuse.
“You meet more people who are recovering,” he said. “It’s like gazelles. The ones on the outside are picked off by lions. The ones on the inside thrive.”
Skelton said he has been in many recovery programs over the years and hasn’t been able to stop using. He said he is currently participating in a program through Palm Coast Transitions and has a sponsor through Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Now I’m 30 days clean,” he said. “I really can’t put a price on recovery. Addiction has taken everything from me. My kids. My freedom.”
The event was a fund raiser for Flagler OARS with 33 booths in addition to musicians, speakers and a food truck.
Booths ranged from numerous recovery centers and treatment programs to other health-related programs to business such as a yoga studio and a landscaping company.
“Everybody here who has a booth serves people in recovery in some shape or form,” said Flagler OARS Executive Director Pam Birtolo. “Maybe people in recovery go to yoga. Maybe people in recovery use Flagler Cares services. It’s a whole array of mostly social services and some business that serve people in recovery.”
Flagler OARS was founded in 2019. It was the 12th recovery community organization in Florida, and now there are 30, Birtolo said.
She said there are about 12,000 people in the county who are currently in some stage of recovery and Flagler OARS is one of the organizations assisting them.
“Our mission is public education, policy advocacy and peer support,” she said.
Through grants and gifts Flagler OARS was able to hire certified recovery peer specialist Danielle Moye-Auriemma this year.
Birtolo said as a recovery community organization, at least 51 percent of Flagler OARS’ board of directors and staff are required to be in recovery. Of its 10 board members, six are in recovery, she said.
“I was afraid to seek help. But so many people in my life supported me and helped me believe I can do this, and that’s what it takes."
DANIELLE MOYE-AURIEMMA, Recovery peer specialist
While on stage Moye-Auriemma told the festival goers that she is recovering from a 10-year addiction.
“I was afraid to seek help,” she said. “But so many people in my life supported me and helped me believe I can do this, and that’s what it takes. If anyone is struggling with alcoholism or addiction, what you need to know is there is help.”
Moye-Auriemma provides peer support, life coaching and counseling. She visits the Flagler County jail and provides support to people getting out of jail or out of rehab.
The festival was created to not only build awareness for Flagler OARS and recovery avenues available in the county, but to educate the public on what substance use disorder is, Birtolo said.
“It’s a disease of the brain,” she said. “It’s no different than any other disease. There’s a lot misunderstanding about that.”
Birtolo said Flagler OARS does not provide clinical treatment but helps support people in whatever recovery path they decide is best for them.
“Some people don’t believe in total abstinence. Some people just stay away from the drug that they abused,” she said. “Some people do total abstinence. Some people do NA, some people do AA, some people do different faith-based things and some people do their own thing. We believe in all pathways to recovery.”