Big Brothers Big Sisters puts fresh focus on opioid crisis

AP file photoOxycodone pills are displayed in this photo. Funding from the Indiana Youth Institute will help train volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Elkhart County to help children who may be affected by the opioid crisis.

ELKHART — Big Brothers Big Sisters in Elkhart County is getting better equipped for handling the opioid crisis and its impact on children.

A $1.25 million federal grant has been awarded to the Indiana Youth Institute, which in turn distributing money to eight Indiana counties, where it will go toward mentoring children who may have family members who are addicted to opioids.

Menessah Nelson, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County, said her staff and board members will learn about opioid addiction and how to support affected families.

She said Elkhart County has a lot of people who care and volunteer, but it can be difficult for volunteers to help in certain situations. 

“What this allows us to do is to be able to train them effectively and efficiently beyond just the regular Big Brothers Big Sisters that we provide. It allows us to wrap our hands around provide them with the resources specific to that youth or that family,” Nelson said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County is receiving between $50,000 and $60,000 over the next three years, according to Nelson.

“It’s pretty awesome funding,” she said. “It really bridges that gap between volunteers and the community.”

Opioid addiction makes it difficult for an adult to be a mentor to a child, Nelson said, and having a “big brother” or “big sister” come in and support the child during such a time can make a difference in their lives.

With the grant, Indiana Youth Institute will work in partnership with two Indiana Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates, the other being Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ohio Valley, and Project Leadership, to increase the number of Indiana youth who are mentored by an adult with specialized training in opioid addiction, substance abuse disorders, adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed practices. The enhanced training will provide an increased focus on preventing youth substance abuse while complementing existing mentoring models.

“We are proud to lead this initiative with our partners at Big Brothers Big Sisters and Project Leadership,” Indiana Youth Institute President and CEO Tami Silverman said. “Together, we can make a positive impact in the lives of Indiana children and better support these communities dealing with repercussions of the opioid epidemic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Indiana ranks 16th in the country for the number of drug overdose deaths. As reported by the Indiana State Department of Health, 1,138 Hoosiers died in 2017 from opioid drug overdoses, a 215 percent increase from 2012. 91 of Indiana’s 92 counties have experienced opioid drug overdose deaths from heroin or prescription opioids in the past five years.

Nelson said the Elkhart Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate was chosen for the program in part because Indiana Youth Institute wanted to try working with a small group.

“We’re a small but mighty agency,” Nelson said. “We don’t always get that opportunity, so this is just such a great honor.”

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

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