CLEVELAND — Sara Szelagowski is on a mission.
“Butterfly out," said Szelagowski. "Up if you can."
Szelagowski is the founder of Project White Butterfly, an organization to encourage and help people battling addiction. She started the organization in 2019.
“I lost a lot of friends to overdoses, and a few of my friends and I were just it was very heavy on our hearts that we needed to do something," Szelagowski said.
That something is the cards Szelagowski and her team hang in neighborhoods with a high rate of overdoses.
“So right now, we are hanging up Project White Butterfly cards around Warner Road in Cleveland. This is an area where April 23 — the street that we’re going to — two people overdosed and died in the same night. So we wanted come out here and hang up some cards so people have resources," Szelagowski said.
The cards each have a message.
“You are not alone. We can help.”
Szelagowski's story started years ago on the very same street where she's hanging cards.
“(I would) buy up the street, come park around here, get high over here (and) sit for a few minutes and then go about my day," she said.
Being back on this street brings back memories for her.
“I remember there was a day that I was I was so dope sick and I was just waiting. I met my dealer over here and he handed me my drugs, and they weren’t in a bag and I dropped a piece, and I was like on the ground trying to decipher between stones on the ground and the drugs. And I found them."
Her family often worried for her life even when she didn't.
“My mom used to ask me when I was getting high. She’s like, 'Aren’t you afraid you’re going to die?’ They were talking about what they would do if I died, making funeral plans, you know what they would have to do, and the thought didn’t cross my mind. I wasn’t worried about it," she said.
It took tough love from her mom to finally get clean.
“My mom knew that things were really bad. So she one morning, I was going crazy. I couldn’t get any drugs and she followed me into the bathroom, saw all the things I was trying to do, called the police and had me arrested. And that’s where my journey started," she said.
Szelagowski has been sober for five years now. She said her past seems like a distant memory.
"But you know, thinking about stuff like that and then where I’m at today, it’s just — it seems like a completely different, I don’t know. It’s like how can it be possible that the same person can live those two lives?”
But those memories are why she does what she does now.
“We know it’s hard to take that first step and to reach out for help. So if we hang these cards up, it’s kind of like a neutral way of opening the door for people and then they can reach out to us when they’re ready," she said.
She hopes through her work with Project White Butterfly she can show people currently battling addiction that they can overcome it and live full lives.
“I just want people to know that, you know, I’ve been sober for only five years and life has changed. And now I get to come back here and do things like this and reach out to people because I don’t feel like I went through that experiences that I went through, or you know, drove down these streets for nothing. I can turn it around and help somebody else now," she said.
Data from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner shows 69 people died from overdoses in March of this year alone. Project White Butterfly also passes out Narcan and fentanyl testing strips to people in the community. If you'd like to write a message for a card or help hang them, you can contact the organization here.