MADISON — Community activists interested in fighting the illegal drug trade in Boone County and Southern West Virginia organized their efforts Tuesday, June 24, in the Boone circuit courtroom.
Circuit Judge William Thompson started the meeting at about 5:14 p.m., with approximately 30 people in attendance. The session was advertised as a follow-up to an earlier meeting of the judge’s Drug Court Community Outreach program. He told the audience Tuesday that this meeting was called to discuss the “nuts and bolts” of the program. Thompson has talked of the need for community involvement in the anti-drug effort. He has said that while he can sentence offenders and law enforcement can monitor them, it does little good if the community at whole is not enlarged in wiping out illegal drug use.
The judge echoed those themes in his opening remarks Tuesday, as well as telling the crowd, “Now, I think it is time for me to step back and let the group decide how to proceed.” He said he had invited speakers from two neighboring programs in Logan and Huntington to address those in attendance. “But ultimately the decision is yours as to how to move on,” he said.
Thompson has urged church groups, in particular, to participate in the effort. He said during his remarks that he is “pleased with the response we have already received from area churches.” Thompson said that the biggest need at the moment is for “housing for those who want to get off drugs but have no safe place to stay, where drugs are not present.”
Thompson and the others who talked referred to “sober living houses” as the major need for Boone County. He said the organization needs to “buy a house and give people a chance who want to get clean. Let them live there six to 18 months, get on their feet and find a job.”
He said locations designated to house former drug addicts could also serve as places for “12-step” meetings and other counseling designed “to assist in staying clean.”
At the close of his remarks, Thompson introduced Chief Probation Officer Jerry Swanson and Adult Drug Court Probation Officer Matt Beckett, who were seated in the front of the room.
Next, Southern WV Recovery Group Director Pete Browning told the crowd of his experiences in implementing a similar organization in Logan County.
Browning’s major theme was the need to be persistent in seeking support for the organization. He said that expenses can generally be met by area businesses and organizations. “But you have to tell them what you’re doing and ask for their support,” he said. “Don’t be bashful when you’re selling the program because the communities desperately need it.” The center in Logan has been open about two weeks, he said.
He told the group, “you don’t have to invent the wheel here. It’s already been done. Just learn from the experiences of others. The need is everywhere and success has been gained everywhere.”
While Browning said his organization is “leading people to Christ all over Logan,” he advised the crowd that the group does not need to be “one-church” oriented. He said members of the Logan board include various denominations and others who are community leaders.
The biggest obstacle for the program in Logan, he said, is lack of employment. “We aren’t like Huntington, where there are hundreds of jobs open every day,” he said.
Browning challenged the group to “step up to the plate and make this a great program in Boone County.”
Then, Rocky Meadows of the Life House in Huntington spoke of how his center was developed in Cabell County. Meadows agreed with most of Browning’s points but gave personal testimony of experiences he has encountered in Huntington.
Those in the audience appeared inspired by the personal details provided by both men, who admitted to being recovered drug addicts themselves. Both said they had “visions” of recovery centers throughout West Virginia, Kentucky and the region.
Meadows said he is “destined for heaven but God has given me a vision as to what to do while I’m here on earth.”
The Huntington man told the crowd the unit was established in Huntington “with no money; just faith in God,” but did say, in response from a woman in the audience, that he had used a $4,000 refund of student loan money to make the original building purchase.
He noted that there are now 480,000 sober living homes located throughout the United States. Those who participate in the programs are there rent-free but must pay a program fee, he said. In addition to other benefits of that structure, those who participate are not “renters” and can be legally evicted from the building and program immediately if they violate their pledge to remain drug-free. Meadows said there is “often tolerance in our program. We might put someone out for a night because he or she used but we will usually take them back and give them another chance.”
Richie Schultz, pastor of the Lick Creek Community Church, said local churches have already pledged $600 per month for the program. He said many are also willing to provide space for meetings and other program-related events.
“There is a need and the people of the churches and Boone County are prepared to meet it,” he concluded.