Operation Better Together | People’s Defender

By Sherry Larson

Peoples Defender

Adams County has some excellent agencies, organizations, and people who are determined to improve the overall mental, social, and physical wellbeing of the youth here. Common Pleas Judge Brett M. Spencer has been gracious in hosting community meetings where he says, “Everybody got to share their ideas, thoughts, and dreams.” Judge Spencer opened the March 22 meeting sharing a brief overview of the Operation’s accomplishments.

Ashley McCarty, who recently joined The Adams County Court as the Community Coordinator, brings this effort together. One of her first orders of business was to develop a resource manual which is now in its final stages. This manual will serve as a complete resource guide for professionals and the community. McCarty is also generating the Operation Better Together newsletter. She stated, “I wanted to make it my duty to keep our constituents and the community informed about the wonderful actions that Operation Better Together was taking toward a better future for Adams County.” McCarty shared a favorite quote, “’When you can’t find the sunshine. be the sunshine. ‘ “I think this newsletter is a great way to remind us that we can be the sunshine for those who need us.”

Danielle Poe, Director of Behavior Health at the Adams County Health Department, says, “A lot of what we do crosses over.” Some of the organizational leaders recognized that there was a communication gap. She continued, “We don’t always know what resources exist; we don’t have a ‘warm handoff system,’ process in place. ” The warm handoff system is what Operation Better Together formed in partnering these resources and getting to know one another. Poe described, “Better Together is essentially making sure that community partners communicate. We have a process that makes our communication flow easily, so people don’t fall through the cracks. This is a grassroots effort – people who said, ‘let’s do this.’ ”

Better Together is putting together a SWOT analysis spearheaded by Chelsea Blevins. The analysis will identify the need gaps and categorize them. How can we work together on these gaps, and what is the priority focus? Poe stated, “We know in our organizations what the priority focus is – it’s the population we are serving, but as a community, if we work together and choose a focus area, surely we can have a huge impact.”

Dr. William Hablitzel, Health Commissioner of Adams County, discussed the 2021 Public Health Assessment. Dr. Hablitzel describes, “The public health assessment is designed to take a thorough look at the community of what our problems are and what our assets are and how we do our health.” The assessment is available at www.adamscountyhealth.org. The study shows that most folks in Adams County feel that their health is good, very good, or excellent, and 85% are satisfied with their lives. The life expectancy in Adams County is an average of 73.6 years old compared to Ohio at 77 years and the best performance in the country at 81.1. In 2021, the leading causes of death in Adams County were # 1 cancer, # 2 heart disease, # 3 chronic respiratory illnesses, and # 4 COVID.

The death rate due to drug overdose was based on an age-adjusted death rate and a population of 100,000. We do not have that number of people in Adams County, but the study enabled us to compare communities. In Adams County, that death rate due to drug overdose was 64.5, in Ohio 46.7, and throughout the US 27.1. Hablitzel said, “Some call those numbers concerning; I think alarming is better. ” People surveyed what they felt was the biggest problem in Adams County. Hablitzel reported, “The top two were unchanged from 2017. The first is substance abuse and addiction, and the second major problem is mental health disorders. Our community thinks this, and I think they are right. ” The assets that make Adams County a happy place include # 1 natural beauty and rural environment, # 2 clean environment, # 3 low population. Other assets commonly mentioned were family, church, and faith.

Hablitzel communicated that the next and most important thing about health assessment is using it to make things better. “A community health assessment is designed to provide data to fuel a community health improvement plan. It’s not something public health does; we foster it, but this needs to be a community plan. ” Adams County aligns its plan with the state of Ohio plan and works on a couple of critical issues together.

Chair of the Adams County Medical Foundation, Tami Graham, is working to remove vaping in the schools. This program places a certified IN-DEPTH instructor at each school through an Interact for Health grant. They are also working on obtaining NOT (a smoking sensation program for teenagers) instructors. Manchester has started its classes championed by MLSD’s Social-Emotional Counselor, Brittnee Inman. The students must be willing to participate, and Inman said, “The response has been wonderful from the students. They love the sessions. ” Graham reported, “We currently have 19 students enrolled, and they will graduate their first group on April 1, and that’s pretty exciting.” The program includes incentives for kids who turn into their vaping devices. This aspect has been challenging due to adequately disposing of vaping devices.

Dan Wickerham of Adams and Brown Recycling offered to take the devices and absorb the disposal cost because they believe in the project. The program presents an alternative to suspension from school due to vaping. They provide in-school suspension, which involves training from the American Lung Association on the effects of vaping. In Adams County, 32% of kids vape. Graham believes in celebrating the two-thirds of kids that are not vaping. They are hanging banners that read, “We are the Majority – We Don’t Vape,” giving outstretch bands and tee shirts, and having kids sign pledge cards with their turned-in devices. Graham said, “We want to encourage kids to hopefully get rid of their vaping devices and want better health.”

Adams County Economic and Community Development Director Holly Johnson had the charge of finding a spot for a basketball court and coffee shop for kids to gather. The coffee shop is becoming a reality in the new Adams County Training Center. Johnson contacted the Health and Wellness Coalition where she serves. They met with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and determined that Adams Lake was the closest park they could get to West Union. ODNR agreed to allow a basketball court placed at the park and extend their trail around the park so the floating dock will be “walk across” access.

The Health and Wellness Coalition will install benches along the Storybook Trail to make it a more accessible park. Johnson said, “We will try to work with the village and do the same multi-use path that’s down 41 south to take it from West Union on down to the hill so kids can ride their bikes down or walk to the park.” During this process, Kim Boldman at the Auditor’s office mentioned to Johnson the need for a place to practice archery as West Union has started an archery class. ODNR approved five archery lanes for next year where the camping sites were previously at the park. Josh Brown called Johnson’s office and asked for disc golf at the park, and it is now in place. They are also adding a fishing dock to Adams Lake. Johnson said, “West Union may not have a park inside the village limits, but we will take the park down there with ODNR, Health and Wellness Coalition, and all of your support and make that a functional park for the village.” Johnson clarified that the timeline is 2023 to 2024. “By 2024, our goal is to be able to ride your bicycle from the senior citizens to Adams Lake. Let’s pump life into that lake! ”

Susan May is organizing an open gym for basketball at Jefferson Gym in Blue Creek every Wednesday during the summer break. There is a need for coaches and supervisors. She stated, “I want to get more children interested in getting out of the house, getting exercise, and having something to do this summer.” May is hoping to get a reduced rate on the rent, which is $ 100 a day. She has asked for a 50% reduction and awaits a response. May also will purchase insurance. May said she needs money for the project and estimates the costs around $ 2000.00. Expenditures will include gym rental, insurance, and snacks for the kids. There are six playtime slots for each Wednesday.

Jude Endicott is with the LINK Mentoring program in Adams County. She reported that they made considerable advancements in the last two months, but they desperately need mentors. If you are interested in being a mentor, please contact Endicott at 614-266-0664. Endicott stated, “The children need mentors so bad.” There is an application process for both mentors and children and required training for each mentor before matching up with a child. The time commitment is four hours per month, however divided the mentor and child choose.

Preparing the SWOT analysis data is the task of the Chief Probationary Officer in Adams County, Chelsea Blevins. She explained the “amazing collaboration” of the organizations involved in Operation Better Together. Blevins presented a chart listing different services and organizations available in the county. The chart also listed the perceived community gaps. These gaps included adult and children programming over an array of topics. Reviewing this list, attendees anonymously chose the needs they felt were the top two in the community. The tally resulted in the first significant gap in emergency housing, with parent engagement and childcare tying for second. With three gaps to focus on, Blevins stated, “Surely we can tackle them. We’re going to do it because if anyone is going to do it, it’s the people in this room. ”

Judge Spencer addresses the room, saying, “Things are changing for the better, and rapidly because of you. To bring in the public and say what are your ideas – what do you think? It’s been because of you and your ideas. You’ve harbored the empathy you’ve always had and the willingness to commit. And all those things have now come together for the projects for kids. There’s been a lot of gates. It’s not all been open gates, but there’s not a gate that has been closed that we don’t think we can climb. ”

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