Hundreds of people came out to the Elmira Elks Lodge on Sunday afternoon to support the Vieira family, who have lost two sons to drug overdoses in the last two years.
Michael Vieira passed away in 2017, and Matthew Vieira died just 8 weeks ago.
But that’s not how their family and friends want the boys to be remembered.
“I don’t want them to look at them just for what happened, I want to look at them for what they did in high school, what they did throughout their lives, how they helped everybody, everyone around them, and what good sons they were to Lisa,” said Colin Erickson, family friend of the Vieiras.
They were boy scouts, members of the school choir, good friends, neighbors, sons, and brothers.
“Every time I saw him he’d always be happy, we always talk, laugh together,” said Syaira Jones, next-door neighbor to the Vieiras.
Their parents, Lisa and Dave, are now taking action, refusing to stand idly by as the drug epidemic sweeps the country and takes thousands of lives a year.
“The Dave and Lisa that I know are amazing people,” said long-time family friend Allison Roblyer.
“Immediately I knew that was going to be their reaction, that they were not going to let this be something that just happened and it was gonna go away. They mobilized very quickly to say they didn’t want this to happen to any other family.”
The goal of Sunday’s fundraiser was to raise money for The Friends of Michael and Matthew Fund. The Vieiras hope to use the money to create scholarships for people entering the drug and alcohol treatment field, and to become engagement speakers, traveling to different high schools and middle schools to increase education about substance abuse.
“I’m hoping this makes a difference today but I don’t want people to forget tomorrow,” said Linda Rossi, lead planner for the event and friend of the Vieira family.
“I’m really excited actually to see what they may do and the effect that they might have in our area because they’re both incredible people and I think if they can get their story out there, people will listen,” said Roblyer.
Sunday’s event was especially meaningful for Allison Robyler and her husband, as their son is currently in recovery.
“These are very young people, often times, and they don’t have to stay [addicted,]” said Robyler. “They truly can get through this and go on to lead a very productive life. So it’s hard when there’s a stigma and people think that they’re bad people when really they may be very smart, very talented, incredible people.”
Also present to help fight the stigma surrounding drug abuse were representatives from Casa Trinity, a local addiction treatment center.
“Substance abuse doesn’t discriminate,” said Amy Jessi, Prevention Assistant at Casa Trinity. “It’s one of those things where, awareness – there can’t be enough of it.”
“It’s amazing that people are showing up and unfortunately sometimes when it happens to your community, that’s what it takes to get more people to show up, said Bailey Johnson, Community Outreach and Engagement Supervisor. “But part of our mission is to get the word out there that these things are happening, it happens in our community, and we are here to help.”
Reaching young people is one of the goals of The Friends of Michael and Matthew, as well as Casa Trinity, to not only increase their awareness of the dangers of opioids and other drugs, but to inspire them to be their own advocates.
“Getting in contact with your policymakers, your local school boards, and asking, ‘what are our policies?'” suggested Johnson.
There was a large turnout of young people on Sunday, including local boy scouts and high school students. The students 18 News spoke with said they wanted to increase awareness about the issue, and also seemed willing to take it upon themselves to protect their peers.
“Check on your friends, talk to everybody,” said Syaira Jones.
“Just stay away from the drugs, and make sure everybody else is staying away as well,” said Colin Erickson. “We just don’t want anyone to get hurt from it.”
“I’m hoping we can reach some of them, because I know that’s what Michael and Matthew would want,” said Rossi.
Rossi said the Vieira family has been “overwhelmed.”
“The outpouring of love and support, although it’s not going to take any of it away, it is certainly a blessing to them,” said Rossi.
To donate to the fund, you can make a check payable to “Friends of Michael and Matthew,” and send it to Ziff Law Firm at 303 William St., Elmira, N.Y. 14901. You can also visit their Facebook page to get involved.