AFTER FACING A DEVASTATING PERSONAL TRAGEDY, THIS NEW JERSEY FAMILY IS WORKING TIRELESSLY TO COMBAT THE OPIATE EPIDEMIC PLAGUING THE STATE
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY PATTY PIXELS
On October 11, 2013, Rick and Lisa Stavola’s world was turned upside down when they experienced every parent’s most horrific nightmare: Their son, Tigger, lost his life to a seven-year battle with opiate addiction. He was 25 years old.
“Tigger was a loving child,” the Stavolas said. “He always stuck up for the underdogs. He loved young children, animals, and had a strong sense of family.” Tigger, who’s real name was Rick Jr., had dreams like every child, they told us. He wanted to be successful in business, get married and have his own children.
The year of his passing, there were 8,257 deaths from heroin overdose in the United States, and 557 of those were New Jersey residents (statistics according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse). Even as the family grieved the loss of their son and brother, they felt compelled to take action. In 2014, in memory of Tigger, Rick and Lisa Stavola, along with their son, Alex, created the Tigger House Foundation, an organization dedicated to combatting the opioid epidemic and changing the stigma surrounding addiction. The foundation’s mission: to raise awareness and save lives.
“Medical centers turned us away, telling us there was no help,” recalled Lisa Stavola. “A child growing up in an affluent family doing drugs was looked at as spoiled, and as a mother and father, we were shamed for our child’s addiction.”
In the five years since its inception, the foundation has changed the conversation surrounding opioid addiction in their community and provided support to thousands who need it. It serves the surrounding Monmouth County community through a variety of programs: The Christian Peter Mentoring Program, for example, is led by retired NFL defensive tackle and recovering addict Christian Peter, who founded the Tigger House Foundation with the Stavolas.
“The last four years we have come together as a family and a community. We have become strong enough to get to the next level, which has also led us to the Student Alliance Program,” said Lisa. “We are working to help children and their families to come together and fight this disease.”
The Student Alliance Program focuses on peer-to-peer outreach that gives high school students the resources to help each other. Its mission is to educate them about addiction and the consequences that it can have on the entire family. Its five Student Alliance teams are Trinity Hall, Christian Brothers Academy, Rumson Fair Haven, Middletown South, and Red Bank Catholic—all working to raise funds for scholarships that will help addicts receive the drug treatment they need.
Local law enforcement officials have signed up to help the Tiger House Foundation and the Student Alliance identify candidates most likely to benefit from this kind of assistance.
“By giving students this knowledge, we hope we can end the epidemic sooner,” said Rick Stavola. “It only takes five Oxytocin pills to become addicted.”
“We educate our teachers, principal, and other students about the disease of addiction,” said Emily Ahearn, Red Bank Catholic’s Student Alliance Vice President.
The Ambassadors program, meanwhile, founded by Alex Stavola, teams up young adults who, like him, have personally witnessed addiction in some capacity, whether through family, classmates, or friends. Working with the Tigger House Foundation, the Ambassadors are bravely sharing stories in public to educate their peers on the grim realities of addiction.
“The Ambassadors are a young group of early adults who have lived in the age of the opioid epidemic,” Lisa explained. “They have lived with siblings and family members who have lost their lives and crushed their families. This group of young adults understands how desperate life can be, and is helping the Tigger House Foundation move the mission in a more corporate world.”
In the future, the Stavolas hope to make the Student Alliance Program law; “Tigger’s Law” would mandate drug prevention education and addiction support in all schools throughout New Jersey.
“We have created these programs in loving memory of our son and all the children who have lost their lives to this deadly epidemic,” Lisa and Rick added. “ ere was a time not so long ago when we had no resources to help our children suffering from addiction. But today we are united in educating the children of our community, guiding them toward a healthier future in which the causes and signs of drug addiction can be identified before addiction wins. May we all make a difference, and may our loss give hope and knowledge to families around the world.”
The Tigger House Foundation
54 Broad Street, Suite 203 / P.O. Box 276 / Red Bank,
NJ 07701 732.865.1559 /
5th Annual Infinity Event will be on Saturday,
October 5 at Edgewater Beach Club in Sea Bright.
The Foundation “is proud to have Celebrity Chef David Burke preparing the dishes.”