County organization hosts final conversation of year, more planned in 2018


A series of community conversations aimed at addressing opioid addiction will continue into the new year.

“If someone from a community can get 15 people to talk about the issues, we’d like to have those conversations,” said Tonja Couch, executive director of Jackson County United Way.

“We want to make sure we hear countywide, because we have a lot of Seymour voices but want to hear more from residents in Brownstown, Crothersville and Medora,” she said.

United Way organized 10 conversations in November and December of this year to provide a starting point for what the community wants when it comes to addressing the opioid epidemic. The last conversation was in Freetown the week before Christmas.

After a series of 25 community conversations in 2016 to find issues county residents wanted to see addressed, the focus was narrowed to substance abuse, Couch said.

The information collected during the conversations has been useful, she added.

“I’m blown away with the openness and honesty that people come into conversations with,” she said. “It’s been very insightful.”

The organization has used that information and is compiling it to release at the end of January or early part of February.

Couch said United Way already has met with groups such as law enforcement, clergy, representatives from teen drug prevention programs and inmates at the Jackson County Jail.

Although United Way has not promised to create any new programs or services to battle opioids, they still want to have the conversations to hear what the community thinks, Couch said.

“I don’t know what United Way is going to do with the information other than have it and share it,” she said. “That’s the most important piece.”

Couch said the opioid addiction issue is not just confined to Jackson County.

“We know it’s everywhere and not just in our county, but other counties too,” she said. Conversations will take place in Scott and Washington counties in January. “We want to make sure we’re hearing from everyone.”

John Cord, a deacon at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, attended one of the last public conversations at Jackson County Public Library and said the conversation was beneficial for him. Part of his ministry is serving at the Jackson County Jail and Indiana Department of Corrections.

“To see that there’s a grassroots group of people in this community that cares is important,” he said. Sometimes, work on the issue can make one feel isolated, he added.

Cord said getting to know the stakeholders is a big step for anyone involved in the issue.

“Getting to know some of these people is a great asset,” he said. “Each person here provided a piece that helps to try to solve this issue.”

Looking back on the conversations in 2017, Couch said each conversation featured new perspectives and ideas, but there also were some of the same topics discussed throughout.

“Each conversation is different, but themes do bubble up that represent some regularities we’re having in our conversations,” she said. Those issues will help form the plan released in the spring, she added.

The conversations show the human side to opioid abuse, Couch said. There’s a negative stigma placed on users, but they’re still a friend, relative or immediate family member to someone, she added.

“It’s someone, and they should be valued,” Couch said. “I’m hearing stories that break my heart, and I’m hearing stories where I can’t imagine sitting in that person’s seat for five seconds.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: Jackson County United Way Community Conversations

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 15

Where: Salem High School

Who: The Jackson County Drug-Free Council

When 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 16.

Where: Southern Hills Church, Salem

Who: Celebrate Recovery


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