Chuvalo takes up the fight for Caritas

Battle against addiction can be won, says former boxing champ

THE greatest of all time, former world boxing champion Muhammad Ali, once said George Chuvalo was the toughest guy he had ever fought in the ring. It’s no won- der that Caritas, the acclaimed drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, called on the legendary Chuvalo to inspire guests during the 24th Annual Together Event. The non- alcoholic luncheon, held in October at the Presidente Banquet Hall in Vaughan, also gave those in recovery the opportunity to share their experiences, reunite with fam- ily and celebrate their sobriety.

Chuvalo, an advocate for drug awareness, is no stranger to Caritas and has been an avid supporter of the foundation for over
20 years. His reasons for encouraging substance abusers to enroll in the program and remain committed are personal. The Canadian heavyweight champion’s numer- able accolades were marred by tragedy from 1985 to 1996, when he lost three sons to heroin addiction. Unable to cope with the senseless deaths of their children, his wife eventually succumbed to suicide.

“You never really heal after something like this,” said an emotional Chuvalo, referring to the loss of his loved ones. Finding purpose by sharing his life experiences, he helps addicts understand the repercussions of drug abuse as well as mentoring those in treatment.

“The three ingredients needed in the hope for recovery is to have faith, respect your family and always tell them ‘I love you’,” he says.

Apart from Chuvalo’s message of hope, there were also gripping open micro- phone testimonials from the residents and their families.

“I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay my sister. She put her life on hold, helped me get out of jail and then got me into the program,” stated one man, trying to hold back his tears. “I’ve been clean for ve months now,” he added to loud applause.

Heart-wrenching, powerful stories were in abundant supply and each individual’s journey was unique. A common denomi- nator between all was the courage each person possessed along with their pro- found desire to persevere.

Bittersweet though it was, the event had its share of entertainment, with a fun- lled afternoon of raf e draws, vendors and a silent auction. Selling like hot cakes was the new book, I Believe, written by Caritas founder, Father Gianni Carparelli. All proceeds of this book sale were allot- ted to the foundation. The Together Event also celebrated the launch of the Caritas Therapeutic Community – Hot Pepper Oil, with 100% of pro ts going to the program. The main ingredient, hot peppers, are grown and harvested by the residents at the King City Farm.

The 80-acre farm is only one example of the organization’s holistic approach to addiction recovery and mental wellness. Caritas is a drug-free environment allow- ing people with addictive problems to cohabitate in a structured community in order to promote change.

The event also featured a stellar perfor- mance from former Caritas resident andCanadian Idol contender, Vince Benenati. Although it has been 22 years since he completed the program, Benenati still uses the skills he acquired in order to deal with his latest adversity—a battle with cancer. “Without the necessary tools and support I received at Caritas, I wouldn’t be able to cope with the challenges I face today,” he said.

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