‘He is the Face… I Am the Voice’
by Martin MironNonprofit Michael's VOICE is devoted to education, awareness and advocacy related to substance use disorder, providing support to those currently suffering, in recovery or have lost a loved one to the disease. They also support families and friends through peer-led support groups.
Betsy Ragone is the founder and president. She proclaims “I hold no degrees or certifications; just the experience of loving my son Michael through a 10-year addiction, and then losing him to heroin and fentanyl at 30 years old.”
Michael’s VOICE was founded in March 2016 in Charlotte, six months after Michael Ragone’s death. “I had been very open and honest about how Michael died at his memorial. That honesty made people feel comfortable enough to tell me their story and made me aware of so many people who were ashamed of their loved one’s disease and were suffering in silence, even after their death,” says Ragone. “I couldn’t stand it. No one should stand alone with this kind of pain.”
The organization offers community education to bring awareness to substance use disorder, advocates harm reduction as well as supports recovery by whatever means chosen such as using 12-step programs, medication-assisted treatment, plant-based options, abstinence, religion or any other path. Ragone states “We supply Narcan to those that need it and either can’t afford it or are embarrassed to go to the pharmacy” (NC Standing Order gives individuals at risk of opiate overdose, as well as family members and friends of people at risk the ability to request Narcan from participating pharmacies).
Three peer-led support groups meet at the Carolinas Center for Recovery, 1320 Matthews Mint Hill Road, in Matthews, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The Michael’s VOICE - HOPE Peer Support Group meets every Thursday for those with loved ones living with or recovering from substance use disorder. The Michael’s VOICE – RECOVERY Peer Support Group meets the fourth Tuesday of the month for those grieving the loss of a loved one due to substance use disorder or accidental overdose. The Michael’s VOICE – SIBLINGS Peer Support Group meets the fourth Tuesday of the month for those with siblings that are living with, recovering or have died from substance use disorder or accidental overdose.
“None of our team are paid employees. About 95 percent of donations go directly back into the community helping those suffering and/or their families. Michelle Ragone runs the siblings meeting and Mike Ragone works closely behind the scenes to get the job done. The board of directors consists of people who are passionate about the cause.” says Ragone.
Mary Ferrari is president and founder of Emerald School of Excellence (the first recovery high school in the Carolinas). Their vision is to provide quality education in a recovery-friendly environment for youth with substance use disorder. Dion Lovallo is co-owner of Carolinas Center for Recovery, in Matthews, and donates space for Michael’s VOICE meetings. His wife, Taylor Lovallo, is a certified recovery coach at the center. Russell Guccio is co-owner of Carolinas Center for Recovery, in Matthews, who shares his story of recovery and provides Narcan training at Michael’s VOICE events. Christina Diaz, RN, is certified in Basic Life Support and Narcan training. Jessica Pennel has a BS in psychology from UNCC and is an expert in community outreach.
Michael’s VOICE will host an awareness and education fundraising event and memorial candlelight vigil on August 31 (International Overdose Awareness Day) at United Memorial Methodist Church, 4012 Central Avenue, in Charlotte. The public is encouraged to attend to learn more and connect.
Michael’s VOICE, Inc., is located at 15105 John J. Delaney Dr., Ste. D180, in Charlotte. For more information, call 704-301-7165 or visit MichaelsVoice.org.