WALLA WALLA - They're celebrating a different type of independence today at Fort Walla Walla Park, one that champions freedom from the tyranny of drugs and alcohol, as residents of both local Oxford House rehab homes hold a free community barbecue.
Oxford House Walla Walla Manager Marcos, 46, who preferred not to give his last name, said donations will be accepted. But he also noted today's barbecue is more about raising awareness than raising funds.
"It's to let recovering addicts and society know that there is a place where they can go to help them get back on their feet, and give them a sense of ability and responsibility," Marcos said.
For Oxford House Melrose Treasurer Robert Ayerst, 52, the free community barbecue is a way to try to return a fraction of what he and his fellow residents have cost family, friends and the community during years of drug and alcohol addiction.
"Us addicts, we have taken away from our community. So we are trying to give back from what we have taken," Ayerst said, explaining that when he was addicted to methamphetamine he felt no remorse for the items he took to pay for his drugs.
"You just don't have the guilt when you are on that stuff. I mean if I was clean and sober I would never do the things that I did," Ayerst said.
He estimated he took more than $100,000 in cash and goods to feed his drug addictions.
"What was the worst part? Hurting my family ... Now my whole family supports me and they are right there for me and this is really cool because I never had that support and now I got it," Ayerst said.
For the nine residents of Oxford House Melrose, which opened in May 2009, this will be their first community Fourth of July barbecue.
Together, residents from both Walla Walla Oxford House facilities hope to serve up to 400 people a traditional Fourth of July meal of hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad, along with some nontraditional foods like carne asada and chicken fajitas.
In addition to celebrating their freedom, Marcos added the event will help break down some of the stereotypes he and other residents face.
"Some people think that crazy guys live here. And we don't take people with sex crimes or arson or mental issues because we have families that come and visit us to see how we are doing and see if this works," Marcos said.
"It's Independence day. And we figured that would be the day that everybody was out and about and everybody would be out with their families. And we figured we would just have a fun time," Ayerst added.
The Oxford House Fourth of July community barbecue will be from 10 a.m. to sunset today at Fort Walla Walla Park near the Rotary Shelter.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8325.