News →

Virginia Stories of Recovery Transformed into Songs of Hope

Janet Martin records at The New Snow Moon Studio
Janet Martin records at The New Snow Moon Studio for the new 12 song CD "HopeFiendZ: Songs of Hope From the Opioid Crisis," a project of Friends 4 Recovery. (Photo: Calvin Cecil) Calvin Cecil/New Snow Moon Studio

In the past five years, more than 5,000 Virginians have died due to opioid use, according to the Virginia Department of Health. A local peer-run center encourages recovery by providing safe spaces for entertainment and songs filled with hope. VPM News’ Evie King has more.

Learn More: Friends 4 Recovery is hosting a soft-release party for the album on Saturday September 29. Find more stories about peer-support in WCVE's series Facing Addiction


For four months earlier this year a gravel parking lot tucked under some trees in Chesterfield turned into an outdoor music venue on Friday and Saturday nights. Larry Almarode shared the concerts on social media, inviting people to join them at Friends 4 Recovery Whole Health Center. He’s the executive director of the peer-run organization. The events were called “Sober Nights,” where anyone was welcome for free music, pool, darts, and dinner-all in a substance free environment.

Larry Almarode: If you're in recovery, and you go to a bar, or something like that, you're going to have that temptation to use.

Following a diagnosis of depression and bipolar disorder, Almarode found the value of peer-recovery and has been working in the field since 2012. He says the Center takes a comprehensive approach to recovering from mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

Almarode: So it's your spiritual health, your physical health, that's your social health, your financial health, all of those go into helping someone become well.

At the “Sober Night” events, the center recorded people’s stories about recovering from opioid addiction. Those stories were turned into songs, like this one, “Goodbye Monkey” by Janet Martin.

(Music) You don’t have that hold on me, goodbye monkey…

With the help of local musicians and Rockitz, a local promotion company, Friends 4 Recovery is releasing a 12 song CD titled, HopeFiendZ: Songs of Hope From the Opioid Crisis. Brooke Saunders is the CD's producer and founder of Rockitz. He also helped book musicians for the Sober Nights concerts.

Brooke Saunders: When I first talked to Larry and he wanted music, bands, and everything like that, I said that's great, you can have all the concerts you want, but you really need something to have and hold.

Saunders has coordinated over 15 musicians working on the CD. He says the songs are kept simple and accessible, and despite the subject matter's tragic impact, the takeaway is uplifting.

Saunders: So it might be a little measure of hope for somebody. I mean it's a vast problem, but maybe some music can, do something.

Pam McCarthy takes her acoustic guitar out of its stickered case and warms up. She’s a local musician playing on the CD. Members of her family have dealt with substance abuse and she's in recovery herself for obsessive-compulsive behavior. She says music has always been a tool in her life.

Pam McCarthy: I've been writing and journaling kind of no matter what's been going on in my life. That's always been an avenue that, if things were crazy, pull out my guitar.

McCarthy says addiction is an isolating disease where people feel stigmatized and afraid to reach out.


McCarthy: We're here on this physical world to learn the lessons of love. And sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is loving ourselves.

McCarthy's song comes from a young woman in recovery whose boyfriend killed himself in jail, where he was incarcerated for drug use. It's called "Not Broken Anymore."

(Music) Our piece is tied together, by the choices we made...

She says the woman has reclaimed her life from addiction and is learning to embrace the hope in her recovery.

McCarthy: Ok I've seen the mistakes, I'm strong enough that I can do this, and I'm not broken anymore.

(Music) So much stronger, not broken anymore…

Friends 4 Recovery and the musicians involved want to continue hosting Sober Nights and producing themed CD’s that offer hope in light of difficult issues. The grant money used to fund this project ran out, so they’re looking for other options. But the center still opens every Saturday night, as a safe space for those who need it. Evie King WCVE news