Banners from each of 10 county public middle and high schools hung from the 111-year-old landmark’s six majestic columns on Friday, March 25. Each banner featured many signatures of students vowing to avoid illegal substances — prescription drugs not prescribed to them, marijuana, alcohol and tobacco.
The youths set positive examples for their peers, and many also advise them when asked. Students signed those banners during lunch periods last week. Banners were distinguished by school mascots and colors.
East Eagles are (L-R) Nathan Brown, Nick Lyons, Nicholas Romer, Isaac Erwin, Austin King, and Blakeley Bristol. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Banners on the balcony level were from Balfour Education Center and Early College; Hendersonville High School; and East, North and West Henderson. Lower-level banners were of Apple Valley, Flat Rock, Hendersonville and Rugby middle schools.
County commissioners on March 16 declared We Are Hope Week in county schools, and several students spoke out. Many are in student governments.
This is the HopeRx school campaign’s second year, and first with middle schools. Last week, speakers in school assemblies gave first-hand accounts of drug abuse and recovery.
HopeRx, based at 841 Case St., was begun in 2013 by Don and Julie Huneycutt. Julie, a former local Rotary president, became HopeRx director two years ago. Don is a bank financial advisor.
The Huneycutts told The Tribune they lost one of their four bright children, Anna, to a fatal prescription pill overdose six years ago this month. They are intent on helping prevent others from falling into the allure and physiological addictive trap, amidst what Julie notes is a “nationwide epidemic.” She said data shows more deaths annually in this country from opiate pills than car crashes.
The Huneycutts also want families not to have to feel “heartache and pain” they did after Anna suddenly died at age 20, in 2010. They began Anna’s Hope in her honor in that year, then helped ignite broader-based HopeRx three years later.
Tom Bridges, retired county health director, earmarked for HopeRx money out of Tom’s Bridge to the Community he set up via the Community Foundation of Henderson County.
Henderson County Partnership for Health (HCPH) developed HopeRx on the Project Lazarus model in N.C. To prevent drug abuse and overdose, HopeRx in public and school forums warns of perils of trying prescription and other drugs — especially pain pills with strongly-addictive opiates. Tips include hiding or even locking up medicines, and disposing of unused prescriptions.
HCPH seeks expanded treatment options, such as supervised access to antidote Naloxone to lessen risk of lethal opiate overdose. There is outpatient care for addicts locally, the Huneycutts noted, but state funding cuts cast away in-house rehab in the county.
HCPH forged a tactical coalition of local schools, families, healthcare and emergency care providers, law enforcement, the judicial system, ABC board, shelters, churches and civic groups. Blue Ridge Community College and Wingate University’s local pharmacy school are involved. The Free Clinics of Henderson County is HopeRx’s fiscal agent.
This Hendersonville Bearcat quintet is flanked by East’s Blakeley Bristol, at left. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Several civic leaders at the rally Friday praised students’ bold stands. Speakers were Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald, schools’ Asst. Supt. Bo Caldwell, Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk, and businessman and state senate hopeful Chuck Edwards.
“This really is a matter of life and death,” said Sheriff McDonald, who decades ago went undercover to combat local drug operations. The sheriff has estimated that in recent years there are emergency responses to nearly ten overdoses per week in the county, triggering three to four deaths a month here — with most fatalities from misuse of prescription drugs.
He understands youths’ pressures. “Everybody knows that we deal with hard things — day in, and day out in life” with even greater “hardships” for teens than in prior generations. He hailed the student leaders for shunning drug abuse “ambassadors of that hope” for a more drug-free future.
Caldwell, who succeeds retiring David Jones as superintendent in July, also praised the youths at the rally. “You stood up” to “social media and the peer pressure,” he said. “You got your peers to stand up in this spotlight” and “continue their lives free of substance abuse.”
He echoed how “it’s tough, being a teenager. Unfortunately, there are drugs and prescriptions you can get a hold of” such as for a legitimate treatment of pain or by swiping or buying what is legally prescribed to others.
North (at left) and West Henderson students join forces with a Balfour student at right, in pledging to be illegal substance-free. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
“It warms my heart to see all the signatures on these banners of these individuals,” Caldwell said, smiling at the display. He is proud “how the schools come together with unity. When you see young leaders standing out there … what a tremendous, bright future we have here in Henderson County. So, to the (student) leaders — a ‘job well done.’”
The six East Henderson students at the rally spoke to The Tribune, right after it. They put on a play March 22 at the school, ahead of inspirational speaker Steve “Boulder” Dalton. They portrayed a span of student personalities — the adventurer, athlete, artisan, nerd and introvert — all vulnerable to falling prey to drugs.
The “future of tomorrow’s generations” hinges on avoiding dangerous decisions, senior star hurdler and pole vaulter Nathan Brown said.
Nicholas Romer, a junior, said realizing dangers of substance abuse is the pivotal step to avoiding their use and addiction.
Positive peer reinforcement is critical, Brown said. This comes from “security in numbers,” to feel comfortable with a drug-free lifestyle. Isaac Erwin, a junior baseball standout, said “it’s very important to surround yourself with people with the same (core) beliefs.”
Nick Lyons, a swift senior, starred as a football runner, basketball point guard and triple and long jumper. He said he does not see drugs used or passed around on East’s campus. The Eagles said they hear about candy-coated pills as an introductory lure, elsewhere in town.
Lyons welcomes being a drug-free role model for peers and younger students.
So does Blakeley Bristol, a junior star in volleyball and softball and the dance team. She said though availability of drugs is “easy” for youths, so is standing up for one’s anti-drug values. She likes to steer her own lifestyle, when in Asheville fashion or other social circles with adults.
Anti-drug outreach to peers is a role. Sharp baseball hitter Romer said it can help to listen to distressed friends’ “family problems, such as their parents splitting up. It’s killing them. They need someone to talk to, and might need (professional) help.”
Austin King, a junior, is a star distance runner and pole vaulter and also active in student clubs. He is concerned how studies indicate one in six high schoolers nationwide have tried illegal prescription drugs, and how dabbling can spawn addiction.
King said it’s so much better to “learn from other people’s mistakes” with substance abuse, than to enter a lifelong battle with addiction.
Indeed, these East Eagles were inspired by Dalton. The tall former Edneyville High star, now 52, owns Fruit of the Spirit Orchard and Vineyard. The East crew was moved by Dalton saying he was shattered and suicidal from addiction, but cleaned up his life and got his wife back.
Roman Gabriel III of Boone, son of the former L.A. Ram all-pro and N.C. State quarterback, spoke to North and West Henderson assemblies Monday. He will speak to East and HHS, Julie Huneycutt noted. He urges youth to set goals, and avoid drugs as they impede one’s mental stability, reliability and productivity.
HopeRx local speakers include Ashley Hare, Jessi Correa and Ed Serrano, Huneycutt said. “We want to build a speakers’ bureau, to tell their stories and spread hope and recovery.”