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​Q&A with Gary Perlow

Cliff and Amy Perlow lost their 21 year old daughter, Nikki, to an accidental overdose on July 9, 2007. They turned their grief into a campaign for good to help other families and young adults faced with the disease of addiction. The Nikki Perlow Foundation (NPF) was established to celebrate the life of a beautiful young woman who grew up in a loving family, loved animals - especially horses, had a passion for all things fashion-related, and enjoyed sailing, lacrosse, basketball and softball.

We sat down with NPF’s President and Founder, Gary Perlow, to discuss their mission, the story behind their current campaign: The Road to Recovery Quilt, and more. NPF will be displaying their quilt at Caron from August 14, 2016 through September 13, 2016.

What is the mission of the Nikki Perlow Foundation?

Our mission at the Nikki Perlow Foundation is to help young adults achieve long-term recovery from the disease of addiction. We do this by providing financial, emotional, and logistical support throughout their journey. We also provide education tied to awareness and prevention of substance abuse, while striving to eliminate the stigma associated with the disease of addiction.

We have a quarterly speaker series that focuses on numerous topics including: helping parents identify the hidden signs of substance abuse in their teens, how to talk to their kids about substance use, treating and living with a family member struggling with addiction, and how to live your first year in sobriety. Our next speaker series is being held in partnership with Caron in Baltimore, MD on October 25, 2016. Experts will address critical issues and concerns families face when a loved one is struggling with addiction.

Additionally, we host large educational events such as presentations by Chris Herren, a former Boston Celtic who founded a non-profit to assist people struggling with addiction, and Earl Hightower, an interventionist and national speaker, who share their stories about addiction and recovery. We also have a grant to work with school systems to educate kids and their families on addiction/substance abuse.

How was the Road to Recovery Quilt conceptualized?

The quilt was the brainchild of several people on our Board. They were sitting around a table having dinner one evening when the subject came up. The question was, “What can we do differently to send a message to the world that recovery is possible; that people do recover and thrive in recovery?” All people know about addiction is what they read or hear in the news, which is most often the number of fatalities from overdoses; however, there are so many more stories where the end game is different and people do come out the other side and live happy, fulfilling, and productive lives. These stories are not heard enough!

Someone suggested, “Why don’t we flip the coin and share a story to celebrate and honor those living clean and sober lives after tackling their addiction?” This was a great idea, but we needed to establish the best vehicle to deliver this message to a broad base of people nationwide and get their attention. How could NPF be different? Someone mentioned the AIDS quilt and other “In memory of” quilts. And another offered, “Why not go the other way and create a quilt that tells the story of those in recovery?” And with that, the Road to Recovery Quilt was born.

Why is it named the “Road to Recovery Quilt” and what’s the significance of its colors?

The project name grew out of the idea that we would create a quilt fixed in one dimension, but goes on ‘forever’ in another… like a road. This became the perfect metaphor for the process of recovery as well as “the road of life.” Both are full of bumps and difficulties, successes and setbacks. While other quilts are made up of “patches,” ours is made of “bricks” to further promote the metaphor.

Each brick bears the sobriety date of a person in recovery. They also have the option of including their name. Each person is asked to provide a word or short phrase that is meaningful to them about their recovery process, therefore making each brick very personal. Collectively, these phrases create an incredibly powerful, positive, and inspiring message.

The colors of the quilt are the brand colors of The Nikki Perlow Foundation – shades of pink. There are many different shades, patterns, and textures, much like the diverse people who are represented on the quilt. Addiction knows no geographic, ethnic, or demographic boundaries. It affects people of all walks of life, everywhere.

How big is the quilt?

The quilt is approximately 6 feet wide in its fixed dimension and, as of August 2016, is approaching 60 feet long!

Can you talk about taking the quilt on the road?

The target going forward is to exhibit the quilt at treatment centers like Caron, as well as museums, hospitals, universities, major corporate headquarters, governmental buildings, and public exhibitions. Media exposure is also in the game plan.

What is the significance of displaying the quilt at treatment centers like Caron?

The quilt is not only a beautiful and overwhelming piece of art, it tells a powerful and inspirational story that recovery is very achievable and there are so many people, from all walks of life, living healthy, happy, and rewarding lives in recovery. That’s why we thought it would be important to display it at Caron. What can be more inspirational than sharing this message to those in treatment? Patients can see they can get on the Road to Recovery like so many who have a brick on our quilt.

What is the overarching message you want to send as you go on tour?

There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and you will get there if you get access to the right type of treatment and counseling. Tools are available. Addiction is a disease, but it is very treatable. We also want to destigmatize the perception of addiction and increase awareness among policy makers, the media, and the general public about the positive and uplifting stories of recovery which offer us hope.

How can people contribute their message to the quilt?

Very easy – just go to www.NPFRoadToRecovery.org and design your own brick in the road online. There is no cost and it only takes a few minutes. We want everyone, both new in recovery or 40 years in recovery, as well as someone wanting to honor/celebrate someone else's recovery, to help us send our message by creating a brick. Each brick is a life. Each life has a story. It is our goal that the Road goes on forever! Do not procrastinate; the longer the road gets, the more powerful the message about recovery!