The Journey continues

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  • Richie Sambora addressed the crowd of 5,000 in Toms River as Maureen Morella and her son, Jesse, listen.

  • Sambora performs for the crowd, with the Manchester High School Choir singing back up.

  • Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato opened the forum in Toms River with sobering statistics but an optimistic view, with hopes that events like this one will help educate kids and keep them away from drugs.

  • Maureen Morella, left, and her son Jesse, listen as Richie Sambora speaks to 5,000 attendees at an anti-drug forum in Toms River.

  • Richie Sambora sings part of his new song, "Lighthouse," to West Milford's Maureen Morella at an anti-drug forum in Toms River in May. Sambora wrote the song to encourage those struggling with substance abuse.

  • Maureen Morella and Richie Sambora talk back stage at the "Can We Talk...Are You Listening" forum in Toms River.

By Richie Sambora
When you're blinded, confused
Blue skies seem painted gray
You can't hear the whisper
When an angel calls your name
You're strung out cold
While you fight your personal war
Once upon a time peer pressure crossed a line
Our kids ain't needing needles anymore
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
Through the fog and the dark
We can brave our heavy load
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
Find a beacon of hope
'Til we walk down freedom's road
I know it's hard to image
That tomorrow turns bright
But you're heading for safe harbour
And serenity's in sight
Who judge don't matter
Those who matter don't judge
You're swimming with the tide
In the wake of the flood
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
Through the fog and the dark
We can brave our heavy load
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
Find a beacon of hope
'Til we walk down freedom's road
We all have broken pieces
Bleeding inside
They obliterate our confidence
And poison our pride
You drifted far from the shore
Livin' dark days alone
There's a beacon of hope
That will lead you home
There's a beacon of love
That will guide you home
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
Through the fog and the dark
We can brave our heavy load
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
Find a beacon of hope
'Til we walk down freedom's road
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
If you just take my hand I will stand with you
There's a lighthouse, there's a lighthouse
There's no telling what true love can do


More than 5,000 people packed into the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River on Tuesday, May 27, for an anti-drug forum aimed especially at the rise in heroin and prescription drug use in Ocean County. Rocker Richie Sambora was the big name draw for the event, but it was West Milford's Maureen Morella who had quite an impact on those present. Morella was one of the featured speakers. She and her son, Jesse, who suffered severe brain damage when he was just 16 after snorting heroin, brought "Jesse's Journey" to the shore.

Morella told Jesse's story, as she has at many high schools throughout the state including here in West Milford. Jesse was a 16-year-old high school student at Pequannock High School in 2004 when he experimented with heroin. He snorted it and his body didn't handle it. He vomited in his sleep, aspirated and nearly died. Instead, he suffered devastating damage to his body. He could no longer, walk, talk, eat or drink. He had to relearn all of the things he learned as a toddler. His life and the lives of his parents and brother were forever changed. And that's the message Morella brings with her as she spreads the message of Jesse's Journey: decisions have consequences.

The audience in Toms River last month listened intently as Morella was the first of the guest speakers at this forum entitled "Can We Talk...Are You Listening?" She told the group of students, parents, educators and drug counselors that everyone is just one decision away from severe consequences.

"You are one decision away from the consequence of a lifetime," said Morella.

Sambora shares his experience
She and Jesse, who turned 26 just a week after the event, remained on stage as special guest Sambora took to it. The guitarist from Bon Jovi is a New Jersey native, growing up in Woodbridge. He told the crowd that he has first-hand experience with addiction, in his case to prescription drugs. But, he said, he has lost many friends and members of his bands to heroin.

"I’m here tonight because I’ve lost too many friends to this battle," said Sambora. "I’m here tonight because I know personally how difficult that battle with addiction can be. But I fought it and I’m blessed to be here happier and healthier and stronger than ever."

With the Manchester High School Choir as his backup singers, Sambora sang "Lean On Me" and a soulful version of "Livin' On A Prayer." He then debuted a new song for the crowd, "Lighthouse," written as encouragement for those struggling with addiction. Proceeds from the single, he said, will go to building a rehab facility in Ocean County.

Ocean County stats

To begin the forum, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato gave some sobering statistics of heroin use in the county. Not unlike Passaic County and many other areas throughout the state and in New York, heroin is on the rise. And the heroin is purer than it's ever been. In 2013, from Jan. 1 through May 23, 51 people died in Ocean County from drug overdoses. This year, in the same time period, that number dropped to 28. That is because of Narcan, a drug recently approved to give to people who have overdosed.

"We can't be scared silent"

"I’m here tonight as a member of this Jersey community which is losing too many of our kids to drugs," said Sambora, "and leaving too many families devastated."

He said he as a father of a teenage girl, he is scared.

"But we can’t be scared silent. And we can’t be paralyzed by fear."

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Elks announce winners of essay contest
  • May 26, 2018


West Milford, NJ