The Daily Memphian –
Every Friday night, a vacant lot behind the Shell gas station at Sycamore View and Shelby Oaks Drive is transformed into a refuge for those addicted to drugs.
They can get a hot meal, free clothes and exchange dirty needles for clean ones through a needle exchange program. They also get other forms of help from Ron Bobal and his army of volunteers.
Bobal and his wife, Lisa, are founders of A Betor Way, a nonprofit they started after their son, Ronnie Bobal, died from a drug overdose at 29 in 2016.
“We started this out of the frustration of losing a child to heroin, which became fentanyl,” Bobal said. “We started out to try and provide guidance for people like us because somebody stepped up and helped me when my child had been to 12 or 13 different rehabs.”
After talking with his son’s friends after his funeral, Bobal learned his son helped save his friends by getting them into rehab and offering rides to doctor visits. So Bobal decided he needed to do more to help those addicted to drugs.
“Through all those journeys and all the rehabs, he always would tell me what needed to change, what was needed to make it better for them,” Bobal recalled.
A Betor Way, a play on his son’s graffiti tag name, was born out of those recollections.
Nearly four years later, the organization is still growing and helping drug users get into rehab or detox programs, or at least a weekly harm reduction program. Sometimes, those who show up just experience simple acts of kindness.
“We are the forgotten ones, and everybody has written us off,” said Daniel, 37, who did not want his last name used.
He told the story of how he was addicted to heroin and rode his bike to the organization’s weekly harm reduction meeting, where the needle exchange program is available along with Narcan, a drug used to reverse overdoses.
Daniel said he once volunteered to help pack up afterward, and Bobal gave him $7.
“I knew a bag cost $7 and I wanted to spend it on the drugs, but they had been so nice to me that I couldn’t. And I tell people that $7 saved my life that night,” he said.
On Friday night, the day after Thanksgiving, the weekly meal consisted of smoked turkey and all kinds of pies. Some of those gathered exchanged their needles, dropping them in five-gallon buckets set up on tables, and then got their food. Some ate behind the gas station and others got their plates to go.
Bobal was in high demand, with several people waiting to talk to him about one thing or another. He said A Betor Way does not have a brick-and-mortar building yet, but that is something they’re hoping will come.
Until then, he said the program will continue to meet every Friday night on the vacant lot. They chose that location because it’s an area where a lot of addicts live in tents in the nearby woods or in the nearby motels and hotels when they can pool their money for a room.
“The reason we’re here is because this is the highest concentration in Shelby County of people who inject drugs,” Bobal said.
He added: “It is usually a lack of mental health is what is leading to the drugs. It is not the story that it is the evil doctor who wrote too many medications to the athlete who broke his leg.
“That does happen, but it is not the majority and what people need to understand is that we need more mental health capability in our society and not marginalize individuals who are addicted to drugs.”
For more information about A Betor Way, visit ABetorWay.org.Needle Exchange Programs