Residents, business owners, elected officials and first responders from across Loudon County gathered Jan. 21 at the War Memorial Building in Lenoir City in hopes of joining for a common goal.
Align9, an organization that works to pool resources across the Ninth Judicial District of Tennessee for drug prevention and recovery, held a launch meeting for The Prevention Alliance of Loudon County.
“Our goal is to raise some awareness and education within the community, amp up some programs within the school and just focus on prevention,” Charlene Hipsher, Align9 co-founder and Ninth Judicial District Attorney General executive secretary, said. “The entire continuum of care is prevention, recovery and treatment. Recovery and treatment fall in a little different category. Predominantly, it’s raising awareness in the community.”
Focuses of the alliance will be on tobacco use among ages 12-17, binge drinking among ages 14-25 and non-medical prescription drug use in the general population.
Plans are to focus heavily on the Positive Peer Pressure Clubs within the school systems, which Hipsher said she would like to see in every school on a daily basis, and emphasize programs like Count It, Lock It, Drop It to help educate the population on how to be responsible so prescription medications do not fall into the wrong hands.
“I think we would like, No. 1, the community to know what’s going on,” Hipsher said. “We want to raise the awareness. There’s not a family I know in this county that isn’t touched by addiction in some form or fashion. We want them to know that hopefully the next generation won’t be the same. We’re implementing programs, focused programs that are evidence-based, in the schools and to the community that will help steer us in a direction where hopefully we won’t see the effects of this epidemic forever.”
Everyone in attendance Jan. 21 was asked to sign up as a volunteer with the program.
“Prevention has to exist because we’re trying to stop something,” Phillip Martin, Align9 co-founder, said. “This isn’t a me problem, it’s a we problem. If we could take all the mes and turn them into wes then we could really fill in all those gaps. There are so many gaps in helping stop this crisis. We’ve got to have volunteers to help transport people to and from places.
“We’ve got to have people to mobilize their congregation, their church, their faith-based organization to offer groups, offer step studies, offer help to people who are in there every single week,” he added. “What we’re trying to empower people to do is most everyone knows someone who has been touched by this, so we want to tap into their story. What is your story? How did it affect you? Let’s not waste your pain. Let’s put it into action to stop what’s going on.”
Martin led a 30-minute presentation on the goal of the alliance, rallying community members to take part.
“We want to make people aware. We want to make them aware of several things,” he said. “One is to make them aware of the crisis, make them aware of Align9, which is helping to facilitate and guide the steps to cover the gaps in our community, and No. 3 is to launch our prevention alliance and get that thing up off the ground.”
Tony Aikens, Lenoir City mayor, welcomed those in attendance before Martin’s presentation. Loudon County “desperately needs” the alliance and Align9, he said.
“We need somebody working with the attorney general’s office and with other organizations throughout the community,” he said. “You know there’s a lot of fake organizations out there, you may say. Obviously, this is legitimate and we know the resources are there to follow through with the program. … It’s so important that we work together and not against if we’re ever going to get anything done. We have to work together. We can’t be against.”
Align9 has formed recovery court programs in Roane and Morgan counties, as well as a recovery support service group that helps those recovering from addiction get back on track. This is the first project in Loudon County.
“We look and see where we can identify a gap in a service and then try to find funding for that,” Hipsher said of Align9. “That’s how we realized there was not streamlined, focused funding program for prevention in Loudon County. So we wrote a grant and are drawing down funds from the state to focus on those programs.”