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COURT HOUSE - Cape May County Recovery Court held graduation ceremonies via online technology, something new for the program. Also new was the beginning of an addiction-free life.

The ceremony was fraught with buffering issues, making it hard to understand what was said, but it was clear there was a sense of accomplishment and pride.

The Atlantic/Cape May Vicinage recognized the successes of 49 graduates, the largest class since the program began, from the Cape May County Recovery Court program, during two virtual graduation ceremonies June 24.

“The whole program changed, beginning with abbreviated court appearances and testing, followed by virtual court appearances and street testing. We are on track to get back to the courtroom, but you won’t have to come back,” Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Waldman told the graduates. Waldman leads Cape May County’s program.

Due to the class’ size, graduation was divided into two ceremonies and included graduates, their friends and family, treatment providers, and court staff.

Recovery Court participants take a three-year journey from addiction to recovery with help from Waldman and staff, including court personnel, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators, and treatment professionals. Completion of the program means participants avoid criminal charges.

The graduates were congratulated by a long list of officials, including Assignment Judge Julio L. Mendez, Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, Cape May County Public Defender Jesse Dean, and Recovery Court Coordinator Sherry Phillips.

Many pointed out the difficulty that the COVID-19 pandemic added to an already stressful process. Overdoses in New Jersey are up 20% so far this year, compared to the same period in 2019, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli reported. Thus far, there have been 1,339 suspected overdose deaths in the state this year.

“This is a difficult, tough process. Along with the program partners, you are working together to make a difference, to change your lives, to save your lives. I congratulate you all,” Mendez said.

There was a bit of levity among the proceedings when the Recovery Court staff broke into a rendition of “Rise Up,” complete with singing and dancing.

Allie Nunzi, who supported participants’ recovery through yoga sessions, gave the keynote address.

“I hope you take time to reflect and celebrate yourself for completing an important chapter of your journey. You did a lot of hard work to get where you are today. Also, you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Acknowledge all folks who supported you,” Nunzi said.

As Waldman called out the first name and letter of the last name of each graduate, they were given a moment to comment. Words like “thankful,” “grateful” and “proud” were mentioned.

“I am proud of each participant. Although they are graduating, each has had his or her own recovery journey. They should take pride in how far they have come and have confidence in how far they can go,” Phillips said.

To contact Carl Price, email cprice@cmcherald.com.

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