The harms of substance abuse and addiction, preventing it and helping those who are dealing with it will be the focus of a free event Monday hosted by Greene County Schools and Apex Bank at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center.

The event titled “One Story at a Time” will feature Jessica Lahey, author of “The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence,” and a panel discussion with community members close to the issue.

WJHL news anchor Sara Diamond will emcee the event and moderate the panel discussion. The event is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and end at 7:30 p.m.

Misty Mercer, academic coach and reading specialist with Greene County Schools, said she worked closely with Apex Bank’s Greene County Market President Tammy Kinser to organize the event.

Mercer said that while Greene County Schools students and families are the focus, the event is open to the public.

“This is not just a Greene County Schools problem. It’s the whole community and the whole area,” Mercer said.

Mercer said Lahey was invited as the speaker, sponsored by Apex Bank, for the school system’s opening inservice event in the fall to speak about her previous book “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” and that led to the idea for the event on Monday.

“When we found that she had just released her other book in April, we thought there could be a great opportunity for the school system to support our kids both at school and in their home environment,” Mercer said. “We thought, ‘if we really want to help our kids and educate the whole child, let’s do this right.’”

“I am so excited to have the opportunity to talk about substance use prevention in Greene County. As a mother of two boys, a teacher of adolescents in recovery, and as an alcoholic myself, it’s been incredibly gratifying to discover what really prevents substance use and substance use disorder,” Lahey said in a press release. “We will be talking about risk factors, preventions that can outweigh those risks, and I will do a bit of myth busting so parents and educators can go home from the event with practical, useful advice for preventing substance use in their own families and in their communities at large.”

Then, a panel discussion will begin, where attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions, Mercer said. Panel members will include adolescent therapists, Judge Kenneth Bailey, South Greene High School Principal Lori Wilhoit, Sheriff Wesley Holt, school resource officers and others including Lea Anne Spradlen, a “community navigator” with the Ballad Health Strong Futures program.

Mercer said that, in doing her own research, she learned some shocking statistics.

“I always thought children were exposed to their first taste of alcohol or some kind of narcotic in high school, but statistics actually show that is happening in middle school,” Mercer said. “That really hit me in the gut.”

She said she also learned more about the spike in drug overdoses and overdose deaths since the start of the pandemic.

“This has been really eye opening,” Mercer said. “We see the overflow of all of these issues families and children struggle with in the schools, and kids need to know they have somebody there for them and their parents or families who may be recovering addicts or in the middle of the cycle of the addiction.”

She stressed that the focus of the event is on raising awareness and offering help.

“Addiction grabs hold of individuals before they realize what is happening. It’s never intentional. It grabs the brain and it happens so quickly,” Mercer said. “Hopefully this event will help provide some education about what is happening and that there are people who can help, so hopefully they don’t feel so alone and will reach out for help.”

The event is free, but Apex Bank will be accepting donations for Strong Futures.

Free food boxes will also be distributed at the event, and a regional overdose specialist will have Narcan available, Mercer said.

For more information, contact Mercer at misty.mercer@gcstn.org.

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