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Mom Brooke McKearn and her daughter Isabelle Badillo are shown at the 2019 Drug Overdose Awareness Walk with a picture of McKearn’s son and Badillo’s brother Nikolas Barrett Graves who died on Dec. 22, 2018, after trying heroin containing Fentanyl. McKearn will be going to the walk this year to volunteer.

ROCKFORD—“Addiction doesn’t discriminate.”

That’s what Brooke McKearn of Beloit said as she prepares to attend this year’s Drug Overdose Awareness Walk to be held on June 26 to remember those lost to addiction, to support those who love them and to raise awareness.

McKearn knows the heartache that addiction can bring. Her son, Nikolas Barrett Graves, 23, died on Dec. 22, 2018, after using heroin containing Fentanyl.

Since her son’s passing, she’s been attending the walk. She said it’s a great way for people to get support and learn they aren’t alone in their struggles. This year McKearn will volunteer with set up and tear down at the event, and will see a poster of her son who she will warmly remember. McKearn said quite a few Rock County families attend the event, and she will be joined by friends from out of town coming to show their support.

This year’s walk will be held 9 a.m.—noon, starting at the Log Lodge at the YMCA of Rock River Valley, located along the Rock River at 200 Y Blvd., Rockford. There is no need to sign up for the walk, but if people want to order a shirt they should go through the website at least a few weeks in advance.

The total for each shirt size is needed before the event. For more information people can email overdoseawarenesswalk@gmail.com.

The walk is two miles, but people do not need to walk the whole distance. Pets are welcome, provided they have enough water and place to rest. Several organizations will be present at the walk and there will be information related to addiction and loss.

Rebecca Rogers and Samantha Hollis, co-founders of the Drug Overdose Awareness Walk in Rockford, started the event, and 2021 marks its seventh year.

Rogers of Roscoe said her brother, Jay Rogers, 25, passed away from an overdose about seven years ago. She helped start the walk after his passing and in some years it’s attracted up to 400 people.

Signs of loved ones with their pictures will be set up along the walk route which illustrate the significant losses due to overdose. There is not one main gathering as walkers are welcome to stroll at their leisure any time during the hours of the event

The Winnebago County Health Department will give Narcan training from 9 a.m.—1 p.m. Narcan is a medication to help revive those who have had an opioid overdose and those attending the training can take home Narcan to help save lives.

Rogers said there are about 10 new signs of lost loved ones this year. Although it’s sad, she said it’s also encouraging that those who have lost someone to addiction are becoming open to sharing their experiences and talking about it.

“It’s so awesome to see a community of people that know they are accepted and they can talk openly,” Rogers said.

Rogers said it can be painful to see kids who have lost their parents to overdose. Rogers recalls seeing them young and now they are getting older. It’s one of the reasons she keeps the event going, to support others.

“I have a great support system, but some don’t,” she said.

Rogers said the event is a great way for families to celebrate their loved ones before drugs and to eradicate the stigma of addiction.

Although the event supports others, anyone is welcome to come show support and learn how to use Narcan.