Hands Across the Bridge champions message of hope

People share stories of their journey of recovery, sobriety at I-5 Bridge event and Oxfest

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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Labor Day is a holiday dedicated to the tireless work and achievements of American workers, and so the holiday was a fitting choice for a celebration of those who have fought their way to sobriety.

On Monday, hundreds of people gathered in Esther Short Park and walked to the Interstate 5 Bridge to celebrate success in sobriety at the 15th year of the annual event Hands Across the Bridge.

The mood of the opening ceremony was celebratory and lighthearted, but beneath it all ran a serious message: Recovery is possible. People of all ages attended, sharing hugs and congratulating one another on staying clean and listening to those who took the stage to speak of their journeys to long-term recovery.

Tiffini Dillard, a volunteer at Hands Across the Bridge, was one of them. She said she was on the streets for 10 years as she battled her drug addiction before starting sobriety a little more than a year ago.

“I was homeless, didn’t have my kids. I was completely just broken,” she said.

Now she has custody of her son and has dedicated herself to helping others get clean.

“Today I am speaking hope, helping my fellow addicts reach a better stage in their recovery and just being there for my friends and family,” she said. “That’s my heart.”

Bridge, Oxfest events

Hands Across the Bridge was started 15 years ago by longtime friends in recovery Patty Katz and Louise Wedge. The duo decided to celebrate National Recovery Month in September 2001 by standing on Portland’s Burnside Bridge to relish in the fact that they were not “under the bridge in their addictions,” according to the Hands Across the Bridge website.

The event was moved to the I-5 Bridge the next year to accommodate more people, and it’s steadily grown since. Today the event bills itself as the largest National Recovery Month event west of the Mississippi.

From noon until midnight, Esther Short Park was home to Oxfest, a musical celebration of recovery, sponsored by Oxford Houses of Oregon and Washington, a network of self-governed sobriety houses.

Tim Dalton has been working to stay sober for about 20 years. He performed at the first Oxfest in Portland in the early 2000s and several others.

“In the early stages, all the musicians were in recovery,” he said.

On Monday morning, he worked the sound system at the opening ceremony in Portland and came to Vancouver in the afternoon to help out. He said events such as Hands Across the Bridge and Oxfest are important tools for people working to stay clean.

“We find activities we can do absent drugs and alcohol because we have to replace the time spent trying to get more,” he said. “This is a recovery fix. As long as we’re hanging out with people with the same intent, it’s easier.”