Roughly 250 people would gather every year at a Madison, N.J. hotel for Daytop New Jersey’s annual spring gala.
But Woody Johnson changed all that this year.
The Jets owner opened the doors to the $1.6 billion stadium he shares with the Giants Wednesday evening, and more than 500 people came to show their appreciation for Daytop New Jersey’s continued efforts against substance abuse.
And Johnson – a man who knows far too well the dangers of substance abuse – was this year’s honoree.
“The message really is treatment works and recovery does happen,” the program’s senior vice preside/executive director James Curtin said Wednesday evening at MetLife Stadium. “People can recover from addiction and substance abuse.”
Daytop New Jersey, a treatment and educational program, prides itself on delivering “comprehensive substance abuse treatment” to male and female adolescents. According to its web site -- www.daytopnj.org – the program is “individualized, family-based, cost effective, peer-oriented and multi-disciplinary in nature,” and places special emphasis on treating adolescents “without adequate financial resources and/or in need of an alternative to incarceration.”
And according to Daytop Leadership Team member Ian Gershman, Johnson’s stature helps “eradicate” the stigma associated with substance abuse and its treatment.
Daytop New Jersey’s headquarters are in Mendham, N.J. – “right in the Jets’ backyard, according to Curtin. And when the team relocated its practice facility from Long Island to Florham Park, the program’s executive council and board members decided to reach out to Johnson to see if he would accept an invitation.
The Jets owner – whose brother Keith died of a drug overdose in 1975 and whose late daughter, Casey, refused to seek drug abuse treatment during her life – said he was blown away during his visit with Daytop students, ages 17-19, last month.
“I was really taken, not only by them, but also what Daytop has managed to accomplish,” said Johnson, who was introduced to the program by New Jersey governor Chris Christie. “It’s something like 80 percent success rate. They say it’s higher. It’s hard for me to believe. It’s so far superior to anything I’ve ever heard of in terms of drug treatment.
“I think it’s partially attributed to the fact that they have an education program right on the premises so everybody stays right there. The kids stay right on campus. So they train them, they go to school, so they don’t lose any time. The best thing you can do is help kids.”
Daytop graduates, and event speakers, Craig Hanlon and Sarah Bergstrom both praised the program and Johnson’s involvement.
“I trace back all the success in my life to Daytop,” said Hanlon. “So having somebody like Woody, who’s willing to put his name and his money in associating with Daytop and the kind of hope that it provides for people that are struggling, like I was, like Sarah was, before we went into Daytop, means a lot to me.”
Johnson’ presence Wednesday night also meant a lot to Peter Lazzaro – a 1997 graduate of Daytop and devoted Jets fan.
Lazzaro, 34, said he’s rooted for the team his entire life and the Jets kept him going during the course of his treatment.
“It was my passion,” he said of the team.