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NORTH CANTON-- The Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative was honored last Friday for promoting a drug free community.
The group received the innovation award at the Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery board's leadership breakfast.
"We are truly honored and that we were even thought of," said Magnolia Police Chief Jeff Hager during the event.
Hager, along with Sarah Nelson and Leanne Vucovich, accepted the award on the initiative's behalf.
John R. Aller, the executive director of the Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery board, described the initiative's efforts during introductions.
"This group has had a significant impact on the Sandy Valley area," Aller said. "The really cool thing about them is they have taken a grass roots approach and kind of blended that with impactful opportunities to promote."
SVDAI launched in March of 2014 soon after five drug overdoses happened within one week in the Sandy Valley area.
"There's probably no creature on this planet that's more resistant to change than a police chief," Hager said. "When Sarah came to me, I wanted to help. I didn't know how we were going to do it. She came up with the idea that we were going to start a Facebook page. It just all bloomed from there. It's been a giant stone rolling downhill since."
Soon after the initiative's launch, a confidential drug tip line was set up.
The group also received a mentoring grant through the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Efforts have since included collaborating with Sandy Valley Local Schools to present information. Pokemon Go has also been used as a marketing tool.
"I am very proud of this group and their ability to be change agents," said Fran Gerbig of the Stark County Anti-Drug Coalition. "They are the perfect example of why coalition work is important and effective...people working together to address the problems that are specific to their community."
Hager also thanked Gerbig for her efforts in helping the group get started.
"She has guided us, and I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart because we would not be where we are without her today," he said.
Other groups and individuals who received awards during the leadership breakfast are as follows: the Canton Police Department (Community Champion award), Lynette Blasiman (Advocate of the Year award); Max Doll (Young Advocate of the Year award) and Dr. Jamesetta Lewis, Major John Oliver and Shonda Haymaker (Professional of the Year awards).