Be the Light Event Offers 5K Walk and Run in Memory of Teen Boy


Had Matthew Umstead had access to a recovery high school—where teens struggling with substance abuse who are committed to recovery can learn in a safe environment—he might have survived, says his mother Michelle Umstead.

On Saturday morning, Sept. 10, at the third annual Be the Light 5K event, Triangle residents can walk or run to raise funds for Wake Monarch Academy, the region’s only recovery high school, and one of only two in NC (the other, Emerald School of Excellence, is in Charlotte). The event is held in memory of Umstead, who died by suicide after struggling with substance misuse.

At Wake Monarch, located in Apex, adolescents recovering from substance abuse pursue academic, personal and professional goals in a safe environment with like-minded peers. It’s an alternative to the short-term treatment programs, where many teens get sober but then return to their partying friends at their regular high school and don’t stick with it.

“Matthew’s stint in and out of rehab showed us how powerless short-term care can be. Recovery is a lifelong process,” says Michelle, who also serves as a WMA board member. “It’s extremely hard to heal in the environment in which you became ill. Giving them a safe school environment is a key in the recovery process.”

Leah Wright, founder and executive director of Wake Monarch Academy, agrees:“We meet the students where they are and provide a safe and supportive environment where they can successfully pursue academic, professional and personal goals. We are transforming hearts and minds for a better tomorrow.”

Wake Monarch has strict standards for admission. In order to enroll at the school, teens must have at least 30 days of recovery from a substance-use disorder, be actively working on and committed to a recovery program, be willing to participate in random and frequent drug screening, be willing to work with a sponsor or peer in recovery, and be complying with a medical professional’s treatment.

This weekend, you can be the light by signing up for the race—or, if you’re unable to attend, consider making a donation to Wake Monarch Academy. You might just save a life…


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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.