Best friend’s death inspires college scholarship for women in recovery

They were best friends since childhood, sticking together through good times and bad — from sleepovers, school dances and concerts to helping each other through their struggles with drug addiction.

Amanda Marino went into recovery in 2007. She says she has been clean ever since. Her best friend, Kimberly Kinkle, fought hard to get sober. She was eight months clean when she relapsed and died on Dec. 16, 2015, after an accidental overdose.

“I held her hand when they took her off life-support,” Marino recalled. “That night, I went running to clear my head. I remember crying and thinking, ‘I have to do something in her honor to help people.’”

With a boost from four colleagues in recovery, Marino channeled her grief into an ambitious mission: Raising money to send women in recovery to college, a dream Kinkle could never fulfill because of her struggles.

The first Kimberly Kinkle Scholarship will be awarded to a Palm Beach State College student Wednesday at a ceremony at the Hanley Center at Origins in West Palm Beach. Handing out the $3,000 scholarship will be Kim’s parents, Al and Debbie Kinkle.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Al Kinkle, who has launched his own charity in his daughter’s memory. “Amanda’s got the right thought in mind. I am so grateful for what they’re doing. I think we need to do that and more.”

Marino’s non-profit group, Women Empowering Women, hopes to give out $3,000 Palm Beach State scholarships every semester through donations collected at bimonthly events that feature speakers from the recovery industry.

“A lot of people that come into recovery have lost their dreams and messed up their lives,” Marino said. “If we can help women in recovery get a college education, they could have a better chance of making it. I obtained my degree last year and it’s the most incredible feeling.”

Marino, 36, of Boynton Beach, said she struggled with an addiction to pain pills for 10 years before she got into a recovery program. Now she has a bachelor’s degree in alternative medicine from Everglades University in Boca Raton.

“I have been able to make my dreams come true in recovery,” she said. “This is unfortunately a rare thing with many who suffer with substance abuse disorder.”

As she worked through her recovery program, she did her best to help Kinkle, whose family considered Marino like a “fifth child” as the two women grew up together and shared their dreams.

Kinkle, who did some modeling with Marino after they both graduated from Santaluces High School, was a talented artist who loved tattoos and wanted to become a makeup artist, her father said. But her struggles with addiction resulted in an arrest record for drug possession.

“She always wanted to go to school but thought that wasn’t in her because of the felonies. It was hard for her to find employment when she was clean and sober. She felt like she had nothing to look forward to,” Marino said.

“I feel like if she would have been given an opportunity to go to school, it could have given her something to look forward to in recovery and maybe kept her clean longer.”

Kinkle had been free of drugs for more than eight months when her father arranged to pick her up from Palm Beach County and bring her to his home in Fort Myers. A children’s Christmas party delayed him by one day. The next morning, police called to tell him Kimberly had overdosed and died. She was 35.

Kinkle was featured along with another friend of Marino’s, Kimberly Herbs, in Generation Heroin, a special section published in November 2016 in The Palm Beach Post to raise awareness of the 216 people who died from heroin-related overdoses in Palm Beach County in 2015.

Less than a week after Kinkle died, Marino began reaching out to what she calls her “crew of ladies” in the recovery field. They met in late December 2015 and formed Women Empowering Women.

The group hosted its first behavioral health networking women’s luncheon in February 2016. Ever since, it has hosted luncheons every two months, with the $25 admission fee going to the scholarship fund.

The luncheons, which usually attract 50 people, are sponsored by a recovery-industry business that provides food and a speaker. Marino describes the meetings as “more like a continuing education workshops. They’re professionally based events. Not everyone who attends is in recovery.”

The program has been so successful that Women Empowering Women is planning to hand out scholarships every semester. The group hopes the idea catches on in other parts of the United States.

“It started as a mustard seed. We didn’t know it was going to turn into what it has,” said Heather Adams, a board member and a recovering heroin addict who said she has been clean for 13 years. “My experience through this journey has been, what comes from the heart reaches the heart.”

More than 150 people, including community leaders and people in recovery, are expected to attend the scholarship ceremony Wednesday. The recipient is Melissa Torres, a recovering addict and single mom.

“This can give women something to look forward to and can help them heal and recover and know their worth in the world. Education is something that no one can take away from you,” Marino said.

Al Kinkle said he is looking forward to sharing his daughter’s story at the ceremony.

“Not a day goes by when I haven’t shed a tear. I haven’t put it behind me and I don’t mind talking about it,” said Kinkle, who launched a charity last year called Kimmy’s Angels in honor of his late daughter. Kimmy’s Angels raises money to support families whose children are receiving treatment at the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

“I don’t think there’s enough done for people with addiction problems and I intend to open that door as wide as I can, whenever I can,” he said.

“We really are kind of closing our eyes to these poor kids and we’d better get a hold of it or we’re going to continue to have a lot of kids who never become doctors and lawyers and scientists.”

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