Buffalo Grove mom turns grief into passion for anti-opioid cause
The world could have gained another nonprofit organization when it lost 28-year-old Jared Voss of Buffalo Grove in 2015.
Instead, at least 10 organizations -- all involved in the interconnected fight to lessen the effects of the opioid epidemic -- gained another volunteer in the person of the late man's mother, Amy Voss.
A former corporate recruiter, occupational therapist, baker, resale store operator and bank teller, Voss, 57, now refers to herself as a volunteer advocate in the fight against opioids, after Jared's death from an overdose of heroin and cocaine.
"Lots of families have started foundations after they lost a child," Voss said. "I knew that wasn't the right thing for me. Where I feel most comfortable is boots on the ground, like in the trenches, making a difference at a community level, one person at a time."
That's exactly what Voss is doing, say the leaders of one of the groups she helps, through her tireless, never-say-no attitude and her passion for the anti-opioid cause.
In recognition of her educational presentations to high school students, her willingness to watch over drug users while they're awaiting treatment, her fundraising efforts for nationwide causes, her support of families of those battling addiction, and her new role helping guide people with addiction and their children through the court system, the Lake County Opioid Initiative recently recognized Voss with its Hero of the Year Award.
Always a passion-driven person, Voss said volunteering with anti-opioid causes has taken the place of her work in employment recruiting and her stress about Jared's health and safety.
"When he died, I had all this extra energy because I didn't have to worry about him anymore, as terrible as that sounds," she said. "But that's the reality of it."
Without that burden, Voss had sadness and she had energy. She connected in the months after Jared's death with Live4Lali, an Arlington Heights-based organization that offers support, compassion and harm reduction to those who suffer from substance use disorder.
Voss knew the organization's founder, Chelsea Laliberte Barnes, and namesake, the late Alex Laliberte, because her children once attended Hebrew school with the Lalibertes.
Live4Lali connected the grieving mom with her children Jared and Dan's alma mater, Stevenson High School. Since early 2016, she has worked with the school's substance abuse coordinator to give talks to health classes warning of the dangers of opioids. She shares Jared's story of substance use beginning at age 12 and brings back a Stevenson alum who has struggled with drugs and now found recovery.
Speaking at Stevenson, Voss says, led her to the Stand Strong coalition in Lake County, which serves the Stevenson community with programs and services to prevent underage drinking and drug use. With Stand Strong, Voss said she's taken up the cause of promoting safe disposal of unwanted prescription medications to remove one potential source of drugs for teens.
Soon she found another group worthy of assisting, this one in the realm of support for families of people battling addiction. So she took a class to become a facilitator with SMART Recovery. She's been leading regular group meetings in Highland Park for more than two years.
She also became a Court-Appointed Special Advocate in Lake County, and she finds many parallels in the details of her first case.
"The natural mom in my case has a substance abuse problem," she said. "I can be objective for the children, but I can also understand how strong her struggle is."
While she'll see the court case through its conclusion, Voss often doesn't know the outcome of the help she provides. This is especially true when she helps with A Way Out, in which Lake County law enforcement connect people with addiction to treatment.
One night, Lake Zurich police called her at 11:30 p.m. and told her she was the fourth person they had contacted seeking someone to keep watch over a young man whom they couldn't take to a treatment center until morning.
"I just knew that I had to go," she said. "I said, 'God forbid it was my kid, I certainly would want somebody with a warm smile and some crackers to show up and help me until I could get to treatment.'"
Voss sat with the man until after 6 a.m.
"I'll never know the outcome, and that's OK because I was there when he needed me," Voss said.
Still, the work fuels her.
"My life changed, and it's so enriched by the volunteer opportunities that I have and the people I've met along the way, the relationships that I've made," she said. "I'm fighting for a cause."
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