EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Megan Herbein sat on the floor in front of a full wall of mirrors in a makeshift dance studio in her home.
In front of her was a framed pictured of her father, Rich Herbein, who would have celebrated his 49th birthday this month had he not died of an overdose nearly four years ago.
Megan, a 16-year-old junior at Egg Harbor Township High School, is one of many children who have lost a parent or caregiver to addiction.
Though she can’t bring her father back, Megan and her family are making sure his memory lives on by helping others, they said.
“He was always extremely happy, making jokes, nice to strangers,” she said. “I’m more comfortable talking about it (addiction) now, because I like telling people how he was. It (addiction) has negative connotations with it, and he was just so good.”
Megan was only 12 years old when her father died.
Deaths from opioid addiction have sharply risen in the past five years. Rich was among 1,304 drug-related deaths in New Jersey in 2014. Deaths so far in 2018 are more than double that number, according to state data.
To help get people connected with treatment and services, Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler and his office formed a coalition of providers and advocate organizations earlier this year to form the Hope One mobile addiction outreach van.
Megan Herbein's mother, Leslie Sanders, told her about the Hope One project after finding out about the initiative through social media, she said.
It was around Halloween, just before Rich’s birthday Nov. 10, and Megan said she wanted to raise money in honor of her dad.
“She emailed everyone for money, and the message kept getting passed on,” Sanders said. “It was nice because even friends of Rich’s that we didn’t really know were making donations.”
Within 10 days, Megan raised $1,100, and more checks kept coming in even after she made the initial donation to the Hope One van.
“It’s powerful and exciting all at once to have anyone individually come forward to want to help, but someone of her age to be able to take tragedy in her life and turn it into something positive is amazing,” Scheffler said. “I know I wasn’t that aware at her age.”
Megan knew something was happening with her dad, especially by the time her parents separated, but didn’t know the details. Sanders said her two older daughters, Megan’s half-sisters, knew more because of their ages.
“It was tumultuous. She (Megan) knew more as she was getting older,” Sanders said. “It was hard, because she idolized Rich.”
Regina Cappuccio, Rich’s mother, said her son struggled with addiction for much of his adult life. Cappuccio, who lost her only child that day, said the family was pretty open about how Rich died and his addiction.
Megan said they want to make the fundraising an annual thing and look for opportunities to volunteer. She, her mother and grandmother are already thinking of ways to raise more money next year.
The most important thing, she said, was to make people understand that her father was more than his addiction.
Rich was the kind of dad who went to dance competitions, made stops for roller coaster rides on the boardwalk and drove his daughter to school most mornings, even that one time when, out of shyness, Megan refused to go to school unless they brought the family cat — which he did, at the cost of getting scratched up.
“I would want them (other kids) to know that they might not be able to just stop right away,” Megan said. “And know that it’s not your fault. It’s not because they don’t love you.”
For more information about Hope One and upcoming locations, see hopeoneac.com.