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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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Project Hopes Protects Vulnerable

Project Hope is combatting Huntington’s substance use problem by supporting the community’s most vulnerable.

“While there is a stigma towards those who are using substances, there is often a higher level of stigma towards those who are pregnant using substances,” said Lyn O’Connell, the assistant director of addiction services.

O’Connell said the key point to know is “substance use disorder is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, and pregnancy doesn’t cure any other disease. It doesn’t cure hypertension or diabetes or cancer just in the same way it doesn’t cure substance use.”

Project Hope is a treatment center that offers aid for women struggling with substance use and their children, said Kathleen Maynard, the director of the project.

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“We are a residential facility for women and their children that are experiencing substance use and that have their children and are working on maintaining custody of their children or in the process of reunifying with their children,” Maynard said.

O’Connell said something for the community to remember is that no one plans to become addicted to substances.

“That is not something that that woman has chosen for her life and not something that anybody sort of puts on their four-year plan to say, ‘I plan to go to high school, end up in a domestic violence relationship, start using substances to cope with historical trauma, and, then, end up homeless using substances and wind up pregnant and not having any resources,” she said.

In 2019, 60 Minutes labeled Huntington as the “overdose capital of America” and the center of the opioid crisis. O’Connell said this was, in large part, due to the stigmas of Appalachia.

“West Virginia and the mountains and accents and the idea that people are barefoot and pregnant – it’s easy to film stigmatizing documentaries,” she said. “I used to joke that West Virginia was the place color photography went to die because every time the New York Times or Washington Post did a photo journal session, it was always black and white, which obviously paints a much bleaker photo than the actual true community and prosperity that is in Huntington and in West Virginia and Appalachia as a whole.”

The community plays a large part in the success of the project. Their first partnership when the project began in 2017 was with the Huntington City Mission.

“They were willing to come on as a community partner and give us that space and allow us to renovate and make Project Hope what it is today,” O’Connell said. “Many of our moms-if they come out of jail or from the streets–they may not have their food stamps set up for a period of time or enough money to support them and their children so the mission assists us in providing meals.”

The project supplies clothes and a fully furnished apartment–including spoons, knives, cups, plates, and toiletries–which the women can keep if they successfully graduate the program, which lasts an average of six months.

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