The latest installment of “Embraced by Grace,” the diocesan video series dedicated to demonstrating how the Catholic Church walks with people in times of trouble, features the story of a local woman on a mission to help people suffering from addiction.
North Royalton resident Sara Szelagowski started a nonprofit called Project White Butterfly after overcoming her own battle with heroin addiction. Szelagowski initially shared her story about getting sober with help from Matt Talbot for Women, a residential treatment program run by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, in the May/June 2018 edition of Northeast Ohio Catholic magazine.
“Embraced by Grace” picks up chapter two of Szelagowski’s journey by chronicling her efforts using her experience to help others impacted by substance use disorders.
“The way we started in 2019 was by placing cards that had handwritten messages and numbers for resources inside of them in areas where we knew people were using drugs and places that I had used in the past,” Szelagowski said.
After acquiring funding from the state of Ohio and other grant sources, the organization expanded to doing outreach on the streets and distributing resources such as Narcan, a nasal spray kit that can be used to reverse opioid-related overdoses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl comprise a large percentage of those deaths.
Recently, Project White Butterfly received a grant from Church of the Resurrection in Solon to help provide more medical supplies for handout bags distributed during community engagement.
Project White Butterfly also created a traveling exhibit that highlights facts and personal stories to educate people about substance use disorders and help dispel the stigma surrounding addiction. Holy Name High School in Parma Heights was the first school to host the exhibit in May. Since then, the display has made other stops and will be at John Carroll University this fall.
“To see somebody like Sara, who completed treatment here, go out into the real world and do what she's doing to help other people, there's no greater gift than that,” said Jennifer Tulli, director of residential treatment at Catholic Charities Matt Talbot Residential Programs.