SALYERSVILLE – A local group of students is working to alleviate the ongoing opioid epidemic, receiving national attention for their work on a mobile app.
After being approached by a group of teachers about a possible project, Magoffin County High School Junior Jayden Hackworth put a team together to find a solution on some level for the local opioid crisis.
"I knew that I had been personally affected and my friends had been personally affected, too, so I wanted to have a team that would take it personally and really wants to do something to solve this because it's affected everybody in the county," Jayden Hackworth said.
Hackworth, along with MCHS junior Kaisen Eastep and senior John Ward, teamed up with MCHS health science teacher Lesley Arnett and they started working on the project that has become something bigger than any of them expected.
Arnett explained to Mortimer Media Group (MMG) that they attended the Healthalachia Innovation Project last October, through the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health, where the team was awarded a $1,000 grant for their project. When they started, their first goal was just to present the project at the FIRE (Forging Innovation in Rural Education) Summit in Pikeville, a semi-annual event hosted by the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative for the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative, which showcases the innovative work in 22 rural county school districts in southeast Kentucky.
They used half of the money to build the mobile app, then poured the other $500 into holding a school assembly and merchandise to bring awareness to the project.
For the assembly, they invited Randall Craft to speak, an addiction counselor originally from Magoffin who was featured earlier this year in the Independent for his story of overcoming addiction and breaking the family cycle that often comes with drug addiction. Craft candidly shared his story with the student body, which opened up a broader conversation.
Arnett said, "A lot of awareness, a lot of people have opened their eyes, and a lot of kids have realized that it doesn't have to be that bad. You don't have to go down the same road your family members or parents are going down. There's always hope. We've had a couple of students reach out to Randall and thank him for coming and speaking and giving his story because their stories are similar. They now have hope and they're going to try their best to not go down the same road. I think that speaks volumes, even if we could save or touch one student or two students out of the entire student body here in the county, that speaks volumes."
After Craft spoke to the students, the team provided "Your Story" feedback sheets for anyone – students, teachers, staff, etc., to anonymously share his or her story of how addiction has affected them.
"We had met a couple days before the assembly and decided people may not use our app, and a lot of students don't have cell phones and don't have internet access, so let's do a hard copy on paper," Arnett recalls.
They disbursed the sheets and announced where the boxes were located for people to anonymously submit their stories and the response was astounding.
The four poured over the responses with MMG, telling of a grandmother who was an opioid addict, but in denial, and how even after multiple overdoses, damage to her health and the irreparable impact it has had on her family, she remains in denial. Students told stories of their aunts and uncles perpetually in-and-out of jail, the physical and verbal assaults they have witnessed from young ages. Friends and family members shooting up, on pills, taking meth, or stealing to stay high was a common theme to the responses. Students told of how when they were very young they were bribed to help their parents get pills. Page after page, the submissions were brutally honest about the drug problem the kids in this county are battling on an ongoing basis.
Hackworth said, "I didn't know that it was to that extent. I just thought that it was localized, but it really happens everywhere and it happens to everybody. Everybody is affected by drug abuse."
As a teacher, Arnett said she was also surprised by the extent of the problem.
"You see these kids every single day and you don't think they're going through it, but they more than likely really are at home and you really don't know," Arnett said. "At school, they may seem fine, but at home, they may be struggling and their parents are struggling. Their families are affecting them in a lot of ways."
Hackworth, who really summed up what the project is all about, said, "It was really an eye-opener. You go through this and you think you're alone and nobody else goes through that, but there are 44 papers in here and these are the ones we were allowed to use. There are others that do this and you're not alone. It gives you hope to read these."
Kaisen Eastep read what was written on the back of one of the stories, "‘When you're in a dark place, you sometimes tend to think you've been buried, but perhaps you've been planted. Bloom.' I think that gives a lot of hope."
In efforts to join the community together, provide support and let others know they're not alone, the project "Yours, Mine and Ours" is continuing through the mobile app, "YMO Stories," available on Google Play and the Apple App Store. Through the app, people will be able to read others' stories, upload their own (completely anonymously), and find links to resources and assistance for those struggling with addiction.
In the fall the team will be up for another grant, which if awarded, they will use to publish the stories into an actual book.
John Ward said, "The stuff we're doing right now…they said they were thinking about doing the same thing in Washington on a national level. We don't know if anything is going to happen from this, or if we're going to be able to do anything further, but she said we started something Washington had been thinking about, but we did it."
In addition to the FIRE Summit, the team presented their project at the Appalachian Research Day, where they were approached by the CDC, which wants to use their app and journal to raise awareness.
Hackworth said, "I hope that we affect the generations coming up and show them they don't have to do this to have fun and you don't have to go out and party. You don't have to be a story in a book."