Leadership Jackson County project team updates community resources information


Erin Nichols asked the people in the room what they thought when they hear the words homelessness, poverty and drug addiction.

“Are they just words that roll off your back like anything else, in one ear and out the other, or do you actually feel something inside?” she said. “Do you cringe a little bit when you hear that?”

She asked everyone to close their eyes and then raise their hand if they have been affected by one of the three issues.

Then if they knew someone who has been affected by one of the issues, lift their hand in the air.

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The people then opened their eyes, looked around the room and saw everyone had a hand up.

“I don’t need a statistic to tell me that this is an issue in Jackson County,” Nichols said. “What you may not have realized with your eyes being closed is that my hand was up from the very beginning.”

Nichols said she once was a single mother of two who didn’t have money and was dealing with some bad life choices that kept piling up.

Fortunately, she said she had family members and friends who supported her mentally and spiritually and watched her kids so she could pull herself up out of those depths and bounce back.

That, however, is not the story for everyone who experiences homelessness, poverty or drug addiction.

“Most of the people affected by these issues don’t share the same upbringing and family that I did, and the little things that we consider to be molehills are actually huge mountains for them to overcome,” Nichols said. “The climb or the rise out of their situation seems insurmountable, especially if they are unaware of programs available to gain support.”

That’s where Nichols and the other members of the Leadership Jackson County social concerns project team — Chrissy Heiss, Jessica Popplewell and Shawna Shinkle — thought they could do something to help.

A project team in 2017 created community resource information cards that were placed around the county so people who needed help overcoming challenges in life could know where to turn.

They included information about the 211 service and other resources in the area.

As this year’s social concerns project team learned about agencies and met with their leaders, they realized there are a lot of people struggling.

“We had a really hard time picking a project,” Shinkle said. “Everybody we talked to, we learned more, and then we learned more. The depth of the drug problem, that kept tugging at our heartstrings, and we felt like we needed to do something with that.”

Nichols said a recent study shows Indiana ranks 14th in the country for substance abuse and ninth for prescription painkiller abuse.

Drug addiction leads to poverty, hunger, illness, lack of education, unemployment, neglected children, homelessness and other issues, Shinkle said.

“It really doesn’t stop with the person who is struggling with the addiction,” she said. “It’s affecting everybody around them. It’s affecting their children. It often turns into that generational cycle.”

People know what their environment has taught them, so if a child grows up in a home with parents struggling with addiction, that child likely will continue in that cycle, Shinkle said.

“They just don’t know any different. To them, that is the normal,” she said. “We’ve learned it is really difficult, if not impossible, to break a cycle without some kind of outside intervention and outside resources made available.”

The team members decided they could make an impact by updating the community resource information cards and putting them in places where they are accessible to those who need help.

“We discovered that the one key to breaking the cycle for the continual decline of our county residents affected by these issues is information,” Nichols said. “If you don’t know, you can’t grow, and if you don’t know, you can’t break free.”

Some places where the cards were distributed last year had run out, so it was the perfect project.

One format is a 5-by-11-inch card with contact information on the front and back. The front lists food, shelter and health resources, while the back is devoted to drug and alcohol addiction treatment providers and mental health and counseling services.

The other format is a single-sided laminated sheet to place in locations people might frequent, including Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry, Community Provisions of Jackson County, Jackson County Clothing Center, Jackson County Public Library, Schneck Medical Center, Jackson County Health Department, churches, gas stations, the police station and the Community Agency Building.

“It’s one thing to put the information in their hands. It’s another thing that when they actually reach out to these organizations that there is ample help available,” Shinkle said.

“We learned just in the numerous people that we talked to that there are a lot of compassionate people in this community, there are a lot of wonderful organizations that are already taking action and they need more help,” she said. “They need volunteers, and that is where apathy can turn into action. If we can all volunteer our time in some fashion or another to make a difference in the lives of somebody else, then that’s going to go a long way in helping to address these issues.”

Heiss said it’s important to show love and compassion to people who need help.

“Open your eyes to what is going on around you,” she said. “Don’t turn a blind eye to those who are hurting. Don’t pretend they aren’t there. Don’t isolate yourself from the realities of our world.”

She said it’s OK to lower your guard and make yourself emotionally vulnerable.

“It’s always easier just to ignore the problem,” she said. “What I’m asking you is to get out of your comfort zone and look directly at the brokenness in our small section of the world in Jackson County. See the harassed, the helpless, the broken and the oppressed. Spend some time helping these people and the agencies that support them.”

Act on your emotions and let the compassion flow, she said.

“Compassion goes straight to the heart and will create a gut-wrenching feeling in which we emphatically identify with the brokenness of another person,” Heiss said.

“Our compassion should propel us into getting involved with these agencies and making folks aware of what is available,” she said. “We need to make the investment in our community so that the helpless, the broken and the oppressed are helped and healed physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

Popplewell said the team is optimistic that the information cards will reach the right people and help break the cycle.

She closed the presentation with a quote from President Ronald Reagan: “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”

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