With messages of hope, inspiration and success, the inaugural HOPE Talks event was presented to more than 75 people on Friday, July 9 at the outdoor stage of the Nelsonville Public Library in Nelsonville, Ohio.
The event was presented by Athens HOPE, a local substance misuse education and prevention program founded in 2017 by Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP), the Athens City-County Health Department and OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital.
“I was very impressed with all of our speakers. I thought their messages were very important in terms of bringing light to issues of education, prevention, stigma and trauma as well as some of the root causes of substance misuse,” said Rebecca Robison-Miller, director of college and community partnerships for CHSP and chair of Athens HOPE.
Reggie Robinson, community services manager with Health Recovery Services, served as the emcee of the event and also kicked off the speeches. Robinson spoke about how recovery is often mischaracterized, stigmatized and sometimes criminalized and said addiction and substance misuse is “actually highly curable” with the appropriate amount of access to resources.
Larry Fisher, director of ACEnet, said the organization is actively seeking to discover its role in recovery by using its economic development expertise. He said those in recovery need employment and resources for financial stability to help them through the process.
Speaking on how trauma is a gateway to addiction and other issues, Jenny Stotts, director of Athens CASA, said building resiliency can be done by meeting basic needs, considering alternatives to prescription drugs and helping to find the strength to adapt to pressing concerns.
The audience hung on every word from LeeAnn Brooks, the house night manager at Serenity Grove, a women’s sober living facility. Brooks shared her story of addiction and how she lived what she deemed a “normal” life. She said while she was addicted, she felt she could handle her choices as long as no one else was hurt. When she realized she was driving away those closest to her, she started to understand that she almost lost everything she cared about. It took several tries at recovery but Brooks no longer felt alone and the destructive and impulsive thoughts faded. Now, she’s able to help others through their struggles and has a second chance.
Dr. Melinda Ford, of OhioHealth explained that addiction involves being at-risk before the first misuse occurs due to factors such as addictive behaviors or others in the family being addicted, stress of life such as the loss of a loved one or feelings of being overwhelmed, and the availability of drugs which can seem to take the stress away. Ford cautioned that drugs quickly start to change the brain’s chemistry to the point where addiction accelerates and gets out of control.
Representing the law enforcement aspect of recovery, Reuben Kittle, of the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office, said police have found that they “can’t arrest their way out of the addiction problem.” He said the prosecutor’s office started a recovery program to better assist the community and that the preference is to help people rather than to incarcerate them. He said one of the principle lessons in recovery is that surviving is not living.
Betsy Anderson, Serenity Grove’s executive director, talked about the organization’s founding three years ago and how more services for women in recovery were necessary. She mentioned how events such as CHSP’s Purple Gala are instrumental in providing a safe, secure and sober environment for women in recovery.
“I hope people feel inspired. I hope they feel educated, enlightened and have a better understanding of what some of our community members are facing,” said Robison-Miller. “The speakers did a wonderful job creating a better level of understanding and urging people in attendance to get involved in whatever way works best for them because we should be caring for all our community members.”
Athens HOPE intends to deliver more HOPE Talks events to other areas of the Athens community going forward.
About Athens HOPE
Athens HOPE (Helping Overcome Substance Misuse Disorder through Prevention & Education) is a partnership founded in 2017 by Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, the Athens City-Council Health Department and OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. The group now has over 70 members from across the community and university, including area educators, peer recovery support specialists and local leaders.
About the College of Health Sciences and Professions
Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP) is a place where innovative education and research happen every day. Each year, more than 3,600 students graduate from our Athens and Dublin-based campuses prepared to serve as passionate professionals who are ready to change the world. As one of the largest health-focused colleges in the country, CHSP has a growing portfolio of degree and certificate programs housed in six academic units: the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness; the School of Nursing; the School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences; the Department of Social and Public Health; the Department of Social Work and the Department of Interdisciplinary Health Studies. All six connect faculty and students across multiple disciplines to explore the best approaches to addressing health and wellness in various settings. Find out more at: www.ohio.edu/chsp.