By Dan Cullinane
The Action Coalition town hall meeting on Tuesday, July 2, focused on the upcoming county elections, and once finished admiring the spectacular interior of the new Local’s Deli where the event was held, Action Coalition’s director, Trish Burchette, was asked what she was hoping to hear from the candidates.
“One of the things we’re hoping to hear tonight,” she said, “Is that they support the initiatives that are being focused on in Johnson County. We have a three-year $550,000 grant from the federal government to build a recovery community organization so that people don’t have to leave Johnson County for recovery and treatment options. We need the support of our entire community and the support of our county commission, our mayors, and our school system.”
In many ways, she got it, as all the candidates spoke in uniform support of addiction resources for Johnson County, but Linda Moon, an Action Coalition board member, was hoping to hear a little more from the mayoral candidates. “Mayors need to support organizations like A.C.T.IO.N., by diverting dollars, or at least having a line on the budget to support their efforts,” she said.
Mountain City native JC Lowe echoed that. “I would like to hear a plan of action they will execute on their first day in office. I think there have to be resources allocated, and we have to work with the state to utilize the state’s resources.”
The candidates spoke, often movingly, of how the issue of addiction has cut deeply into their community, but only Eric Garland mentioned providing additional funding, and that in the form of seeking additional grants.
David Ritter, who moved here last fall from Connecticut, and his wife
Adele looked all through Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina before settling on Johnson County because “This was a wonderful place to land in terms of affordability, culture, and outlook.”
David said, “I think it’s important that this issue isn’t overly characterized as an issue of therapy, as important as that is. It’s also a moral and cultural issue. As human beings, we’re more than just our biology. Shame around these issues can be negative in terms of addressing it, but it’s also important that a place has a culture and that the leadership of that place kind of defines that culture.”
Mayoral candidate Tate Davis also visited the idea of addiction being a social and cultural issue. After giving full support to Action Coalition’s efforts and those of incoming Judge Perry Stout, the Safe Babies Court,
Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, and others, he talked about personal responsibility.
“I used to remind some of my clients, ‘when you are looking in the mirror, you’re looking at the person who has the most control over your present and future,’” he said.
Burchette spoke about the new program the Coalition is launching, the ACTION Addiction Recovery Resource Center or A.A.R.R.C., their first step into the field of recovery. Two newly hired Certified Peer Recovery Specialists, Deanna Schrayer and Matt LaMarr, gave powerful first-person testimonies on their own struggles with addiction.
But, it was, perhaps, the most unlikely candidate who said the most, although
not with the most words. Running for reelection as Johnson County’s Register of Deeds, Freida May Gwinn acknowledged that her candidacy has “nothing to do with the topic of the evening, but that the subject has everything to do with her. As a volunteer and a board member of the Action Coalition, she addressed the issue not because it’s her job but because it has affected her loved ones and her community.
With that, she took her seat, leaving the audience to realize they had just heard the best possible solution. Getting involved.