Jessica Falco has never done anything like this in her life. There will be a gathering at 1 p.m. Thursday on Dunkirk's pier, followed by a walk to City Hall, where Falco will stand before the men and women in the crowd and explain why she asked them to come together.
For years, she was frightened of speaking in front of groups. But she is calling the event "Not one more," a reference to lives claimed by heroin, and she finds courage in the mission made clear by that title.
"Maybe it will help keep someone else from going through it," said Falco, 31, a recovering heroin addict.
Thursday is International Overdose Awareness Day. Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas, whose small city is struggling with the opioid addiction crisis, is expected to speak at Falco's event. So are some police experts on the epidemic, as well as counselors from local agencies involved in recovery and prevention.
Yet the emotional core of the gathering will involve statements from Falco and several men and women recovering from heroin addiction. They all know addicts who overdosed and died, and at least one of the speakers overdosed on heroin and survived.
To be able to tell these stories, Falco said, "is part of the healing process."
She also hopes it might have an impact on young listeners tempted to try heroin. As Falco recounted in a column last June, her addiction – and the extremes she embraced to maintain it – tore apart many of her family relationships. She began with Hydrocodone and escalated into heroin. For a time, at the most difficult point, she was homeless. She stopped using opioids in 2014, and she has learned to see recovery as a day-by-day journey.
After completing Dunkirk's treatment court requirements last spring, Falco helped create a 12-step group for people in northern Chautauqua County seeking to free themselves of opioids. As for Thursday's event, she hopes it might help other addicts confront their addictions – and maybe cause a few young people to think twice about ever getting started.
She also will be remembering those who overdosed and never made it back. The event will end with a purple balloon launch, in their honor.
"In my own way," Falco said, "it's a little tribute to my friends."