WESTBROOK — Angelo Alonzo was the type of person who always helped out others.
Now, one year after his death, his mother is honoring him by doing the same. Ruth Dow, owner of Forte Hair Salon at 816 Main St., will be donating $2 from every service in February to Maine Recovery Fund in Portland.
Alonzo died Feb. 2, 2017, of a heroin overdose one month shy of his 30th birthday. Dow, of Windham, said her son struggled with addiction for almost half his life, but that it didn’t define who he was.
“He was a sweet, sweet boy,” she said. “He would do anything for anyone. Anyone who knew him just loved him.”
Alonzo, a graduate of Windham High School, served in the Army National Guard. Dow said he was very shy and introverted, and loved sports and art. One of his drawings is Forte Hair Salon’s logo.
Dow raised Alonzo and his sister as a single mother after her husband died when her children were still young. She said the death deeply affected Alonzo and “he was lost as a boy.” She said he began using drugs as a high school freshman and that his addiction grew worse as the years went on.
“I think he didn’t want to admit he had a problem, nor did I,” Dow said.
Dow said the misconception people have about addicts is that they choose to keep using drugs and they can stop at any time. She said she witnessed her son struggle and there was no way he could have just quit, regardless of how much he may have wanted to.
“He said, ‘Mom, my mind is telling me one thing and my body says something else,'” Dow said. “It was like being in a black box and there’s no opening.”
Dow said Alonzo tried to stop using many times, but would eventually relapse. From 2013 until his death he had been in rehab four times.
“He really wanted a better life for himself,” Dow said. “He really tried.”
It hurt watching her son struggle, Dow said. She said there’s a fine line between helping and enabling and it was often hard to find. Dow isn’t alone in this situation as many in the Westbrook community have lost family members to addiction.
Last August, the Westbrook Police Department hosted an event in Riverbank Park on International Overdose Awareness Day. Speakers included individuals in recovery for substance use disorders and people who have lost family members to addiction. The event ended with the gazebo across from the Walker Memorial Library being dedicated to people who have died from overdoses, people who are struggling or in recovery, and to the families of these people.
The Westbrook Police Department in 2016 also hired Shelby Briggs as its first CASH (Community Approach to Stopping Heroin) coordinator. Over the past year and a half she’s worked to create new programs for those with addictions and their families.
Since announcing her fundraiser in mid-January, Dow said the community has been very supportive. Although her business won’t start donating until February, she said people have stopped by to make donations, including those who aren’t clients.
Dow said she chose to donate to Maine Recovery Fund because it helps people get back on their feet when they leave rehab or prison.
“It’s a big part of recovery we need to work on,” she said. “If we don’t, they’ll go back to being depressed and go back to their old ways.”
Not having adequate resources is part of the reason Alonzo relapsed so many times, Dow said. Maine Recovery Fund helps people in recovery find housing, food, clothes, transportation and jobs.
Margo Walsh, the founder of Maine Recovery Fund, said she’s very grateful to Dow for running a fundraiser.
“We were so excited Ruth came forward with this,” Walsh said. “It was unexpected and so delightfully welcomed.”
Dow said she likes the organization, which was started last year, because it helps keep people alive at a time when they’re vulnerable. Walsh, who is a recovering addict, said people in recovery “are systematically told no” and she wants to help them transition during a difficult time.
“When you step out the door of rehab or prison without proper transitional support, you’re left rudderless,” Walsh, of Falmouth, said. “They’re extremely fragile, and navigating life without any substance is brand new.”
Walsh said her organization picks up where rehab and other recovery organizations leave off by asking what people need next. Over the past year she said Maine Recovery Fund has funded 4,000 rides to work, 1,000 bus passes, 150 jackets, 400 pairs of boots, as well as many other services. She said a large part of the nonprofit is helping people find sober housing.
While Dow said she wishes her son was alive to benefit from an organization like Maine Recovery Fund, she’s happy to be helping others like him. She said life without him is difficult, but she’s moving forward by educating herself and others on substance use disorders.
“People say, ‘I don’t know how you do it,'” Dow said.
“I have no choice.”
Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.
Ruth Dow, the owner of Forte Hair Salon at 816 Main St., will be donating $2 from every service in February to Maine Recovery Fund, in honor of her son, Angelo Alonzo, who died of a heroin overdose last year.
Ruth Dow’s son Angelo Alonzo, a graduate of Windham High School, died in February 2017.
Ruth Dow said she hopes her fundraiser, which is happening until the end of February, helps addicts like her son as they transition through recovery.