When the grassroots movement STOP Coalition was started in 1999, the handful of people who met at the Larry Joe Harless Community Center and seeded the initiative were not altogether certain if it would indeed take root and ultimately grow or if it would simply dry up and wither away in a climate of suspicion and indifference.
And when, 10 years later, the decision was made to establish Crossroads for Women Recovery Shelter in Gilbert for West Virginia women battling drug addiction and provide them with a place of support, aid and hope, certainty of success was once again anything but a given.
But both did take root, and both have flourished. And, 20 years after that first organizational meeting, both came together last Saturday at the Larry Joe Harless Community Center to celebrate their successes in the war of addiction as well as tearfully remember those who were lost in the many battles along the way.
STOP’s current Executive Director Angie Sparks said the need for the agency was apparent even 20 years ago and that in spite of community doubt there were those in the Gilbert community who wanted to get a grip on the problem before it had a chance to perhaps get beyond all reach.
“The Strong Through Our Plan (STOP) organization began with some of our citizens because there was concern over some overdose deaths that had resulted in the community,” she said. “So that group of concerned citizens, led by Debbie Trent, started meeting in the Larry Joe Harless Community Center to try to do something meaningful about it.”
Sparks said that, for the first 10 years, STOP essentially focused its efforts on prevention education both in the community and with kids in the school system, as well spending a great deal of time and effort on forming important community, faith-based and governmental agency partnerships.
Then, in 2009, under the leadership of then-Executive Director Amy Turner, STOP envisioned and brought to fruition a residential recovery facility for women, primarily due to the fact that there were then and still remain today less recovery beds for women than there are for men.
“Lara (succeeding Executive Director Lara Fox) was there for the actual creation of Crossroads, which began as an 8-bed facility,” Sparks said. “Soon thereafter she became executive director and she actually increased the number of beds during her time to 20 beds.”
Sparks said after she became director three years ago Crossroads again underwent a substantial renovation and during this time added a separate facility for STOP staff members as well as a Pregnant Post-Partum Program which provides one efficiency suite for a mother and her children.
“This provides her the chance to be there during her pregnancy and birth and initial bonding time with her child, and as long as she is remaining clean and healthy she gets to keep her child with her,” Sparks explained.
Katrina Blankenship is Assistant Executive Director of STOP as well as supervisor of Crossroads for Women.
Blankenship said nearly 270 women from 39 West Virginia counties have been served at the shelter and, although a few of these ultimately lost their battles and lives to their addictions, currently the success rate at Crossroads for complete recovery sits well above the national average.
“We’re very proud of the success we’re having and we celebrate every day when we see with our own eyes these women transform from the confines of addiction into all-new people,” Blankenship said.
Due to STOP being in the schools on a regular basis regarding its prevention programs, during the ensuing years the agency also realized how great the need was for feeding disadvantaged kids during school downtime, Sparks said.
The result was the initiation of STOP’s Backpack Blessings Program in 2015, which she noted continues to serve around 200 children every weekend as well as every break and out-of-school-time.
“The prevention aspect of STOP also continues to blossom … Josh Murphy is our community liaison and the face of STOP, and all of his team which includes Leety Beverly and Sherry Gross, are well-trained and have the passion and experience it takes for STOP to be successful,” she said. “We are just super proud of what has taken place over the last 20 years and we are blessed to continue this mission with our community, our volunteers, state, federal and local government … it truly does take a village and we have some of the best who believe in and support our mission.”