Sheryl Hirsh said her life changed when her daughter Melissa passed away from a drug overdose in 2013.

She was 24 years old. It took Hirsh about a year for her to find a way to talk about Melissa’s death, specifically how it happened. 

“I didn’t want anyone to think of her as a street junkie,” she said. “She was really sweet, beautiful and smart – I just didn’t want that thought that everyone had of her to change. It took me a while to admit how she died, because I was afraid people’s perception of her would change.” 

In the end, Hirsh said no one changed their opinion about her daughter – and the support she received fueled her passion to help families suffering in the same way. In 2014, Cleveland Magazine reached out to her to do an article about her experience, which propelled her into the public eye. In doing so, it began Hirsh’s volunteer life.

“After the article came out, my boss, Brian Amkraut, said to me that (Siegal) is an adult education program and if I’d like to develop a series… and that’s how it really began,” she said. “I’m so thankful for the people that I work with for having faith in me and giving me that kind of support. I’m a behind the scenes person, so the thought of speaking out and building a program is not something I had ever done before. Everyone involved with fighting this epidemic is so passionate – and now I just realize how blessed I am to have met so many great people.”

Hirsh believes her motivation to volunteer was always there – she just hadn’t found the cause that fueled her fire. But once you find that, she said you can’t help but want to get involved. 

“Once you realize the fulfillment that it gives you emotionally, to be helping others, it’s an amazing spark that ignites your mind and you just want to keep going,” she said. “It’s almost hard for you to say no. There is no way to put into words how great it makes you feel. 

“It really doesn’t take a lot to get involved. Once you find that one thing you’re passionate about, you start to learn about the agencies and the volunteer opportunities available. Definitely that spark ignites – but it’s the people who support you that make you feel like you are really accomplishing something.”

As for the future, Hirsh said, she started thinking about retirement – but she doesn’t have any intention of ending her involvement with Siegal or her volunteer work with the organizations she is now committed to. 

“I want to get more involved with working with children and helping people understand what certain drugs can do to you,” she said. “Not every child gets addicted. But I’ve talked to recovering addicts, and they can remember the first time a medication had an effect on them. That’s how the addiction begins – and it’s something I will speak out about as long as it’s an issue. The crisis we have now is out of hand and needs a lot more help and money before we see it end.”

-Becky Raspe

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