One of the great things about working for Duckpin is that we are encouraged to volunteer and give back to our community. Each calendar year we’re given the opportunity to take a day off to do anything from planting trees to running a charity 5k. It’s a nice reminder that there is life beyond the office and it’s important to stay involved in things we’re passionate about beyond work.
For me this year, using my volunteer day came with a bit of a heavy heart, and touches on a topic many people tend to avoid, even though it affects people we love and care about each and every day.
In 2016, an old friend of mine lost his battle with addiction and died of an overdose. Though we hadn’t talked or hung out in many years, he was a friend that was hugely influential to my interest in music, in playing shows, and recording music. And not just to me, but also to many other close friends and acquaintances from High School and my early 20s. His name was RJ Holmes.
No, his band never got on MTV or landed a huge record deal, but they toured often, put out their own records, and they played Warped Tour a few times. Small feats for some bands, but for a lot of kids growing up in our small town, RJ’s band might as well have been the Beatles. They showed us there was a whole world to discover beyond where we lived.
I was fortunate enough to share a circle of friends with RJ towards the end of High School and into my early 20s. I got to go on tour with his band, he took one of my bands on tour with his, he recorded our first EP, showed me how to network and book shows online –– things I probably wouldn’t have done without his help. And that was probably one of RJ’s best qualities. He was always willing to take the time to show anyone how to do anything. He cared. He was patient.
Even though we weren’t best friends or spent that much time one-on-one, his passing hit me hard. It was a loss of a time and place for me and a large group of friends, and I couldn’t have predicted how devastating the news felt when I found out. I had to leave work. And cried the whole drive home. Addiction sucks.
Then, this past July, RJ’s sister Chasity reached out to me. She had started a non-profit called RJ’s Lasting Strength Foundation. Their mission was to raise money to fight addiction through education and awareness and to provide families with funds to assist them with rehab and funeral costs. A great mission. The only problem was their web designer was MIA and they needed something put together fast before their inaugural event. I had yet to use my volunteer day off when she called, so I decided to ask Andrew if I could use my VTO day to build a website for RJ’s foundation. He, not surprisingly, said yes.
Since I was pressed for time and resources, I used one of our more or less “blank” custom-built WordPress themes that would allow me to strip any unnecessary functionalities and quickly add in the content and imagery that Chasity wanted on the site. It’s not award-winning by any means, but it felt great to give back in the way that I could, and to provide Chasity with a platform to help leverage RJ’s foundation.
RJ’s Lasting Strength’s inaugural event, the Hope For Change Fest, was held on August 19th, 2017 at Baker Park in Frederick, MD. The event helped raise awareness on addiction issues affecting Frederick County and featured local music acts, businesses, vendors, food trucks, and a candlelight vigil to remember those we’ve lost to addiction. I was able to make it out to the event, and even played a short set of songs on acoustic guitar. It wasn’t the largest turnout, but as RJ showed us, sometimes something small can have a large effect on people and wind up being much bigger than it intended to be. Hopefully future years will prove that to be true for his foundation.
If you feel inclined to donate to RJ’s Lasting Strength Foundation, please visit rjslastingstrength.org.