After 26 years working in law enforcement, Jason Grellner knows that the best way to fight drug addiction is through prevention.
For every $1 that’s spent on prevention programs, that’s $10 saved on rehabilitation programs that aren’t needed, he said. But even more important is the avoided human toll from families being kept intact rather than torn apart by addiction, which is priceless.
Prevention is one of three pillars of what it means to have a clean and sober community, said Grellner. The other two are law enforcement and rehabilitation.
“Without law enforcement, drug problems would proliferate throughout the community, and people don’t find their way to rehabilitation, but without prevention, we don’t help the good kids stay good or find the kids on the edge to keep them from falling off,” he said.
Prevention is at the heart of the nonprofit organization, Foundations for Franklin County, that Grellner established eight year ago.
You might only know the organization’s name from its two signature fundraising events — the Rivertown Run 5K and half marathon held in the spring and the Taste of Franklin County held in the fall. But the programs and partnerships that Foundations provide are making the wider community a safer and healthier place, said Grellner.
Foster Care Had Hit Its Limit
Thinking back to 2005 when Franklin County was in the throes of a meth lab crisis, Grellner said one of the ramifications was that the foster care program had hit its limit. There were more than 300 children here in foster care, and the greatest number of those were the result of kids being taken away from parents who had been arrested for meth, sometimes for having meth labs in their homes.
“We were out of placements, and a lot of times those kids were leaving their homes with nothing, literally not even the clothes on their backs because they were toxic,” said Grellner.
Foundations for Franklin County was started as a way to help those children.
“DFS was running low on supplies, basic things like car seats, diapers, clothing. We wanted to do something to supplement that,” said Grellner. “We were seeing these kids in devastation as we were taking them out of the homes. We were seeing families being torn apart, and we really wanted to do something to help that situation.”
The name Foundations for Franklin County can be a bit confusing, Grellner admits. Many people think of the name as referring to what the organization is, a nonprofit foundation. But the name is actually more about what the organization strives to provide.
“We went with the name Foundations because we wanted to build strong foundations for families in the community and rebuild foundations that had broken or been cracked through the devastation of drug abuse,” said Grellner.
Foundations got its start working with the Center for Women in Transition, which was a program mentoring women coming out of prison, jail or an addiction state to help them find a way back into the community, to get them gainfully employed, out of abusive relationships and on track for getting their children back.
Today Foundations collaborates with numerous area resource providers to achieve its mission of a safe and drug-free community.
This includes the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA), which has a branch office located inside the Foundations office in Krakow.
NCADA works throughout the community and in local school districts on many different prevention programs.
Foundations also works closely with the Drug Court program, even going so far as providing housing for people who were involved with the drug court program and holding classes on subjects like finance.
“The Drug Court program strives to help people lead clean and sober lives, but while they are trying to get their lives back on track, they still have kids who . . . may be old enough to remember the poor decisions that their relative made . . . or may may need help from a psychiatrist,” said Grellner. “So Foundations has worked in that realm, trying to get services out to children through a no-cost mobile counseling unit that visits outlying communities.”
Other partners include the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Multi-County Narcotics and Violent Crimes Enforcement Unit, Division of Probation and Parole, Children’s Division, Preferred Family Healthcare, Bridgeway Behavioral Health, Kids Under Twenty One (KUTO), Children’s Advocacy Center and the Franklin County Community Resource Board (FCCRB)
Provides Necessities, More for Children
Foundations provides necessity items, like eyeglasses and wheelchairs, for children in the foster care system here, but it also provides money for fun things too, like sports, camps, swimming lessons or social programs, “really any fun thing that every kid should have a chance to do if he or she wants to, but because of where they are currently in life, may not have the chance,” said Grellner.
Very often those are the kinds of things that help keep kids out of trouble and on the right track, he noted.
Foundations works with the FCCRB to fund those requests.
PSA Contest for Teens
“Through the Teen Lens” is a contest that Foundations sponsors for teens across Franklin County. Middle and high school students are invited to create a 30-second public service announcement video on risky behavior they consider to be a serious threat to teens.
Past entries have focused on drugs, drunk driving, texting and driving, bullying and teen suicide. The topic, Grellner stressed, is selected by the teens as a reflection of what they see going on around them. It’s not necessarily what adults consider to be the biggest danger.
“The PSA contest lets teens have a voice in what is really going on with them and their friends,” said Grellner. “It’s eye-opening at times, and other times it has followed the trends that we were seeing. But they have a unique way of telling us and showing us what the problem is.”
The PSA contest is held in the spring.
Helping People Find Resources
Foundations works with agencies across Franklin County to facilitate programs promoting mental and physical health for children, adults and families.
In addition to the youth programs already mentioned, the nonprofit has workforce development programs for adults and is working to launch a transportation program.
Most of what Foundations offers is collaborative, said Jennifer Slay, who currently serves as treasurer for Foundations and served as its first executive director.
“It’s gathering all of the services in the community and trying to make those more accessible, more available and actually getting the knowledge out about what is out there,” said Slay.
“There are a ton of services out there, but the community doesn’t necessarily know about them. So we are really trying to be that focal point, that focal agency, that points people in the right direction,” Slay commented.
Jane Mense, who serves on the Foundations board, describes Franklin County as “resource rich.”
“We have a lot of things out there for everyone, but how does it all fit in and how do you navigate those waters?” she asked.
That’s what Foudations can help with.
NCADA Branch Office Here
Foundations has an office space at the intersection of Highways A and YY in Krakow, and that has allowed the NCADA the opportunity to have a branch office here.
“Our mission is to reduce or prevent the harms that are associated with any kind of drug use. We do that in three basic ways — education, intervention and advocacy,” said Julie Hook, community strategist with NCADA who works out of the office in Krakow.
NCADA’s main office is in St. Louis County. Its service area includes St. Louis city and county and all of the surrounding counties.
Franklin is the only county with an NCADA branch office, which it only has because Foundations for Franklin County provides the office space.
The NCADA provides school-based prevention programs for students in K-12th grade at schools that request those services.
“For kindergartners, these are resiliency programs. It’s not, ‘Don’t do drugs’; it’s ‘The brain is the most important part of your body. How do you protect your brain?’ ” said Hook.
“We know now that addiction is a brain disease, and we know like any other chronic disease, the sooner we start teaching young children how to prevent that, the better. So we teach them that your brain is important,” Hook explained. “You wear your helmet when you ride your bike; you eat right and get good sleep; and you don’t take medicine that isn’t yours or take drugs.”
Counselors at the school contact the NCADA office to set up the program.
Along with educating students, the NCADA office here strives to educate the general public, said Hook.
“We gather community members together to find out what they think is a big problem having to do with substance abuse and how can we help prevent that here?” she said.
“We educate people in particular about specific topics that are of most importance today, including the opiate overdose epidemic we are seeing.”
Training to Spot Signs of Opiate Overdose
Right now the NCADA office is partnering with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Missouri Institute for Mental Health to be a distribution center for naloxone, the overdose reversal drug sold under the brand name Narcan.
“We can provide, with a little training to anyone who needs it, some information on how to spot the signs of opiate overdose, what to do and how to use Narcan to save someone’s life,” said Hook. “They leave with a couple of doses of this life-saving drug.
“This is beyond just the distribution of the drug,” she said. “It is a three-pronged approach mainly on identifying the signs of overdose so people can know what this looks like, and then providing a small amount of this tool (Narcan). The goal is to educate everyone about how to find the help that a person who is experiencing an opiate addiction issue needs.”
The NCADA is not a treatment facility, Hook was quick to point out, but the office does connect people to the resources that can help them.
“People who know someone who they think may have a problem with addiction can call the NCADA to find out what the next step is,” she said. “We have counselors whose only job is assessment. They can determine if a person has a situation that does or does not require treatment. If you do, let’s help you navigate those waters.”
No Cure for Addiction, But It Is Treatable
“What people don’t understand about addition is it’s a brain disease that is preventable — don’t ever use drugs and you’ll never become addicted to them,” said Hook. “But it’s also treatable, just like any other chronic illness.”
Grellner likened addiction to diabetes.
“What people have to understand is that we don’t have a cure . . . We can teach you to live with the disease,” he said. “We can give you the tools to live with it. We can give you the information — check your blood sugar, give you dietary recommendations, health and exercise recommendations, and see your doctor at recommended intervals — you can do all of those things, and lead a healthy, happy life with diabetes.
“The same is true for drug abuse,” said Grellner. “If you don’t follow the prevention recommendations and you end up with the disease, we don’t have a cure. You are always going to have that disease. You have altered your brain chemistry to a point where it’s there.”
“We can give you the tools, the knowledge of where not to go, who not to hang out with, what not to do. And we can give you the daily recommendations of groups to go to — NA, AA, therapists to speak with. We can give you all of the tools to lead a clean and sober life, but we can’t cure you. And the worst thing for an addict to do is think that they are cured, because the minute they think that, they stop doing their maintenance. When that happens, the disease comes roaring back.”
Drug Take Backs, Medication Drop Boxes
Every six months, Foundations sponsors a drug take-back event, where old or unused medications are collected from people in the community and turned over to the Drug Enforcement Agency for destruction.
“In this county alone we turn over around 2,000 pounds of unused medication,” said Grellner. “That’s 2,000 pounds from this community every six months. Nationwide it’s like 312 tons every six months. And those are only people who are turning them in.”
Foundations also keeps permanent medication drop boxes in all of the police departments across Franklin County and in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
“We also have household prescription boxes that people can use to lock up their narcotics so someone can’t snatch a few of your pain pills without you noticing,” said Mense.
Foundations also offers special bags that allow for medication disposal.
“There are little things like this that each of us can do to help stem the problem (of opiate addiction),” said Hook. “We need to keep track of our prescription medications and get rid of them when we have finished taking them.”
That, in a nutshell, is the basis for Foundations, said Grellner.
“It’s the little efforts that can be done in conjunction with other little efforts to make a huge impact,” he said.
Foundations for Franklin County receives funding from the FCCRB, local grants, the Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement Unit through money seized from drug dealers and two fundraisers — Taste of Franklin County, which held its first event last fall, and the Rivertown Run 5K and half-marathon.
The race generates around $10,000 to $15,000 and the Taste event raised around $5,000 last year. This year the goal is to double that amount, said Mense.
The second annual Taste of Franklin County will be held Thursday, Oct. 5, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. outside at Hillermann Nursery & Florist in Washington.
The all-you-can-eat event will feature food and drinks from nearly two dozen vendors from across Franklin County, including:
Sugarfire Smokehouse, The Creek, Seitter’s Market, Saucy’s, Röbller Vineyards, Pinckney Bend, Joe’s Bakery, Jim’s Country Catering, Jennie & Grace, Happy Apple, Glady Fay’s, Shrimp King, The Blue Duck, Big Boy’s, B&B BBQ, Noboleis Vineyards, East Central College culinary students, White Mule Winery and Miller’s Grill.
Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. They can be purchased online at foundations4franklincounty.org or in person at Hillermann’s, 2601 E. Fifth St., Washington.
For more information on Taste of Franklin County, call 314-550-0707.
For more information on Foundations for Franklin County, people can go to www.foundations4franklincounty.org.
The Foundations office is located at 3033 Highway A, Suite 102, Washington. The office number is 636-239-7652.