BENTONVILLE -- Drug and veterans courts participants were honored publicly for the first time since the covid-19 pandemic began.
Graduates of the court were recognized Friday during the program's graduation ceremony, the first since 2019.
"We are happy to bring back our live graduation program," said Benton County Circuit Judge Tom Smith, who presides over the Benton County Drug Court. "It is an opportunity to let our graduates realize they are part of a new community."
The graduation involved participants who completed the drug and veterans court programs the last three years.
"I think it is very important to have the live graduation," Smith said. "We talk about becoming a part of the community again with their sobriety, and when the community honors them it's a great way to show them this value."
Smith said not having the graduation really felt like the program was missing a key part of its purpose.
"Covid was tough on everyone and was hard on our participants," Smith said. "Losing the live interactions I believe hurts the healing process. Our program adapted the best we could, but it definitely caused some struggles."
There were 21 graduates of the veterans court and 120 of the drug court.
Chad Sparks, a graduate of the program in 2017, was a speaker and shared his story. He said drug court saved his life.
Sparks said it's amazing how recovery has transformed his life. He said he had lost custody of his daughter before going through the program but has since regained custody.
Sparks said the success is available for anyone who wants to come into drug court and do the work.
"All you coming into the program it's easier to do the right thing," Sparks said. "It's difficult for the ones trying to beat the system."
U.S. Sen. John Boozman was the guest speaker. He congratulated the graduates on overcoming many challenges to graduate. He said their accomplishment is not only good for them and their families, but also for society.
He told the graduates their completing drug and veterans court are examples of overcoming great odds.
Boozman said he's committed to supporting and assisting specialty courts.
State Sen. Bart Hester told the graduates he was proud of them for putting in a lot of work, time, effort and commitment.
Hester said he's committed to funding public safety and that it's important to fund drug courts in the state as well as faith-based groups assisting people with overcoming their addictions.