New SOS Berks mural in Reading celebrates recovery from substance use disorder

The new mural celebrates recovery from substance use disorder. It consists of 60 panels and engaged an estimated 1,000 volunteers who participated in community painting events.

The first in a series of recovery-themed murals sponsored by the SOS Berks Opioid Coalition made its debut this week.

The mural titled parachute cloth, is located on a wall measuring about 1,500 square feet, adjacent to a popular Hispanic market near the intersection of 9th & Oley Streets in Northeast Reading.

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The artwork consists of 60 panels that were adhered to the building by Mural Coordinator Mike Miller. Miller is the founder of Berks Community Murals and an Artist-in-Residence at Albright College.

The new mural has been a year in the making. It is based on the recovery story of Jose Lugo, who met with Berks County artist Leslie Ramos last summer. During that meeting, he recalled his life growing up in Puerto Rico, his struggles with substance use disorder, and the role his family and childhood memories played in helping him overcome those struggles. Ramos sketched while he spoke and, over the course of the next several months, created the artwork for the mural.

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Ramos and Miller then transferred the artwork onto 60 hand drawn, five-foot long panels of a material known as parachute cloth. Each panel included a section of the mural outlined and numbered, similar to a paint-by-number painting, making it easy for community members to assist with the project.

Beginning in February, volunteers began to paint the panels at various community painting sessions held throughout Reading. Most sessions took place at Albright College’s Total Experience Learning art studio, but others were held at remote locations.

Miller estimated that 1,000 people have contributed to painting the murals over the past six months.

SOS Berks undertook the mural project in partnership with Berks Community Murals and Albright College as part of it’s overall efforts to reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorder, and to communicate a message of hope for recovery.

“This mural is visually stunning and emotionally captivating,” said Kathleen Noll, Executive Director of the Council on Chemical Abuse and Co-Chair of SOS Berks. “It shows how the support of families and loved ones can make a difference for people suffering from a substance use disorder and help them find their path to recovery.”

The new mural is a the first in a series of murals SOS Berks plans to install in Berks County. A second mural has been designed for a building located at 11th & Richmond Streets, owned by Albright College. Painting on that mural is expected to begin soon.

The murals will expand on a stigma reduction campaign that SOS Berks created several years ago. That campaign promoted the theme “Addiction Doesn’t Define Anyone,” seeking to reduce the deadly stigma around substance use disorder through short video testimonials from people in recovery from addiction, as well as from family members who have lost loved ones to overdoses.

The SOS Berks Murals will build on the recovery stories of individuals featured in those videos, communicating through colorful, artistic renderings, the joy they have found in recovery. The murals are intended to provide hope for those struggling with substance use disorder, while also putting a human face on addiction in an effort to reduce stigma.

“Substance misuse and substance use disorder are issues that impact the entire community,” said Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera, who is also the Co-Chair of SOS Berks. “These murals will not only engage many, many community members during the painting process, but they will provide a profound message of hope that will be highly visible within our community.”

The mural was funded by the Council on Chemical Abuse, through money received from the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

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