Carissa Serino ’13, her son, and golden retriever Sonny take a hike on the trails in Acadia National Park. Serino was the force behind the book Shattered: Stories of Lives Broken by Substance Abuse and How We Put the Pieces Back Together.

For Carissa Serino ’13 life after graduation was a busy mix of work and friends. Happy Tails Dog Walking, her dog-walking/pet-sitting business in Easton, was a success, and her passion for dogs included volunteer work helping to find homes for shelter dogs.

Four years after graduating from Moravian, Serino met Alex (not his real name), they fell in love and had a son. They built a life together around him, their lovable golden retriever, a mutual love of the outdoors, and Alex’s growing woodworking business.

Tragically, Alex, who had been struggling with substance use disorder on and off for years, succumbed to the disease and died from an overdose of fentanyl in July 2021. Serino, who had majored in English with a focus on writing, picked up her pen and documented her years with him to ease the overwhelming grief.

Alex and son walk along the lake shore at Promised Land State Park in Greentown, Pennsylvania, as their golden retriever, Sunny, looks on.

“I hadn’t written much for years, but after he passed, I felt compelled to write everything down to help me cope,” she says. “I wrote and published some essays on Medium, an online writing platform. I met several writers there and found others who had lost loved ones to substance use disorder. Within a short time, we formed a collective to publish our essays.”

In addition to the nine writers, Serino found professionals who were interested in sharing their first-hand knowledge, and helped some of the fledgling authors write their chapters. She interviewed nine contributors and wrote their stories and project-managed the entire undertaking.

“I found Anthony Campolo, a therapist in Bethlehem, who is in recovery. A friend referred me to Nanci Hummer, the owner of The Loving Piece, whose significant other passed away from alcoholism years ago. And that was just the beginning,” says Serino.

“Nanci’s employee, Hannah Souders, lost her older brother to an accidental overdose in 2013. I learned about Rhonda Miller’s nonprofit, Speak UP for Ben, Inc., and the OASIS Community Center in Bethlehem. I have found that almost everyone is affected [by substance abuse] in some way.

“Ed Bisch, whose son died from an OxyContin overdose in 2001, was profiled in SJ Magazine last year,” adds Serino. “He agreed to be interviewed for the anthology and then connected me to others, including Gracie Parker, whose nonprofit is publishing the book.”

In January 2023, the group, Healing Lotus Hearts, was ready to get to work. Led by Serino, they recently self-published a compilation of essays, Shattered: Stories of Lives Broken by Substance Abuse and How We Put the Pieces Back Together.

The book is intensely personal and yet overwhelmingly universal. Some of the writers have lost loved ones and others have dedicated their lives to helping people in need. Some have battled their own demons and now are committed to helping others.

Carissa Serino ’13 and her son enjoy a hike at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Harmony Township, New Jersey.

Shattered is meant to reach readers on a primal, personal level,” says Serino. “We want those who struggle with the disease to know they aren’t alone, that this disease is insidious and can and does affect people in every socioeconomic arena, and that there is hope and help.”

Shattered is published through Why Us Kids, a nonprofit organization founded by 10-year-old Gracie Parker of North Carolina, who was only six months old when her mother died from a drug-related accident; her grandparents subsequently adopted her. Gracie is the book’s youngest contributor.

“She is so brave,” says Serino. “Gracie started speaking out about substance abuse and youth mental health when she was only 5. Today, she is a true activist, speaking in Washington, D.C., and testifying to members of Congress last year. She also hosted the first youth-led mental health help rally in North Carolina in April 2023. This rally will be held annually.”

Shattered is available on Amazon, and the e-book is enrolled in the retailer’s KDP Select program, which allows those with a Kindle membership to read it for free. The book is also for sale at the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem and through Barnes & Noble. A book signing will take place at the Easton Barnes & Noble store at 4445 Southmont Way on Saturday June 8 from 1–4 p.m. and at the Moravian Book Shop at 428 Main Street, Bethlehem, on Sunday June 9th from 1–3 p.m.

All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Why Us Kids and will fund efforts to support mental health resources for the country’s young people, especially to ensure that trauma counselors are available in schools so that kids struggling with situations including drug abuse/overdose, suicide, or any abuse, will have somewhere to turn.—Brenda Lange