New Community’s Family Service Bureau of Newark Hosts Event Highlighting Addiction and Mental Health

New Community’s Family Service Bureau of Newark (FSB) hosted A Gathering of Hope & Healing on April 27 to raise awareness about addiction and mental health. The event, held at Monsignor William J. Linder Plaza, 233 West Market St., Newark, featured a display from The Black Poster Project, an addiction and overdose awareness group from New Jersey that travels with posters showcasing those lost to addiction.

FSB Director Christina Ward organized A Gathering of Hope & Healing with her team and The Black Poster Project. In addition to the display, FSB staff members offered free grief counseling for anyone in need.

“This is a really special event,” Ward said.

The Black Poster Project brought about 200 of its 750 posters depicting individuals who lost their lives because of addiction and mental health issues. The display included a section with members of the military and another with family members who died from addiction. The posters, which included photos of the individuals as well as text about them, filled the atrium of the venue. Visitors were able to browse the display at their own pace.

The Black Poster Project founder Dee Gillen said the purpose of the display is not to make people sad but to honor those lost as well as to help those in recovery.

“You have to hear both sides,” she said. “You have to hear the recovery stories and the loss stories because people won’t understand how much work it takes to stay clean and sober. And that’s why we do it.”

The Black Poster Project Event Coordinator Dawn Pizzolato said the display also puts a face and a sense of humanity to overdose statistics.

“It could be anybody,” she said. “It could be you, it could be your friend, your neighbor.”

In addition to the display, the event featured three speakers who discussed their experiences with addiction and offered words of encouragement to those in attendance.

Actor Lillo Brancato Jr., best known for his performances in A Bronx Tale and The Sopranos, shared his story of addiction which caused him physical and emotional pain and ultimately cost him his freedom.

Brancato said his addiction was the cause of breakups, serious bodily injury to himself and the loss of a police officer’s life for which he served time in jail. Although he wasn’t the person to shoot and kill the officer, he was implicated in the crime because he had broken a window to get the attention of someone he knew to have drugs, which was considered a burglary attempt. Since the person he was with shot and killed the officer, Brancato was charged with felony murder because the officer was killed during the commission of a felony. Ultimately, Brancato was acquitted of the most serious charges but found guilty of attempted burglary in the first degree with bodily harm to a non-party. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

It took many years and nearly dying from an overdose in prison for Brancato to hear the message from a friend that he had to stop using.

“A million times before people tell you this. When you’re ready, you’re ready. And that day I was ready. I didn’t shrug it off. It really resonated with me,” Brancato said. “I’m all shackled up and as restricted as I was, I hadn’t felt that free in so long because I just felt like God was going to give me another chance.”

Brancato stopped using drugs and worked on his case with his lawyer. While serving his sentence after trial, he earned his GED and a two-year degree. Since his release from prison, he has returned to acting and helps others in recovery.

His message is to have hope in the future.

“Things always get better one way or the other,” he said. “Either the situation itself gets better or your ability to deal with it will get better.”

He encourages everyone to take control of their circumstances.

“We decide how we want to live our lives. And to use what we’ve learned and all the mistakes that we’ve made,” he said. “It’s very important not to keep making those mistakes.”

Author and podcaster Richard Kaufman spoke at A Gathering of Hope & Healing about his addiction which started with alcohol at the age of 11. When he was 20 years old, he robbed a police officer and was facing a grand larceny charge, which would have meant five years in prison. Instead, the police officer offered him the opportunity to attend meetings and drug court, which changed his life. He has remained sober since then, 35 years ago.

“The three most important words in the English language are: ‘Today I decide.’ I decide if I live or if I die. I decide if I go to bed an addict or I wake up clean,” Kaufman said. “You can either be a victim or you can be a victor. And if you’re standing in this room and if you have five minutes clean, you are a victor. You no longer have to be a victim of your past.”

Director of Community Hills Early Learning Center (CHELC) Daniel Charles spoke at the event to serve as an inspiration for those in recovery and battling addiction.

“I’m coming to let you know that if I can get 31 years clean, one day at a time, the hope is that you may be able to do it too,” he said. “And I know if I can do it, you can do it.”

Family Service Bureau of Newark (FSB) is a licensed outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment center, welcoming the use of medication assisted treatment and psychiatric intervention. FSB has offices in Newark and Kearny. For more information or to make an appointment, call the Newark office at 973-412-2056 or call the Kearny office at 201-246-8077. You can also email or visit for more information.

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