Two local mothers who lost children to heroin overdoses opened Monday’s Wauseon City Council meeting describing their public program for addicts and their families, and making a plea for support.
Linda Wurns and Lori Knierim said their bi-monthly “Strength in Numbers” sessions at St. Caspar Catholic Church in Wauseon are gaining steam but assistance would help the program grow. She said it’s important to offer their services in an area still in denial about the heroin epidemic.
“People here don’t think there is a problem because we are a small town. Like, ‘It doesn’t happen in small towns,’” Wurns said.
She said that belief may stem from the fact that deaths of local residents are sometimes recorded in other counties, where the overdosed addicts succumb after being transported for more comprehensive care.
She said the other area problem is stigma, one reason their program experienced a slow start. “People don’t want to come out (as drug users). Just like there are functioning alcoholics, there are functioning drug addicts,” she said. “We have to open the pathway for them to be able to want to get help without making them feel ashamed to come out and get help.”
Now, 15 months after it began, Strength in Numbers is receiving people from Fulton, Williams, Defiance, and Henry counties. Wurns said she and Knierim prepared to lead the program by taking related classes and educating themselves with help from rehabilitation centers. She said the program holds sessions the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, and attracts both young people and parents who are trying to help their children fight addiction.
She lost a 25-year-old daughter to an overdose in November 2015; Knierim lost her 20-year-old son the same way in October 2014. Both said they try to teach parents that such a loss is not their fault.
“It was not within our power. The addiction was way bigger than us to have saved our kids,” Wurns said. “We’re taught to love our child unconditionally…but you’re a parent to an adolescent child that’s an addict. That’s a different ballgame. I want these parents to understand how addiction works…and it’s okay for the guilt to go away. It’s not your fault. And we want the addicts to know we’re not blaming them. We just want to help them.”
Wurns, who with Knierim funds the program, said they could use help in the form of donated materials and supplies, such as costly informational DVDs and a mobile television. Presently, Tomahawk Printing in Wauseon is donating pamphlets and other promotional material.
“I want people to come to us,” she told council members. “I don’t want them to come to us with shame. If we can save one parent from feeling the way we feel it’s worth it.”
Knierim added, “You don’t know what it’s like until you’re in that position, so you don’t know who to talk to or who to trust. And that’s why we’re here.”
In city department reports:
• Fire Chief Rick Sluder said the department’s new executive assistant, Stephanie Gowan, begins next week. She will assist the department with paperwork and other administrative duties.
Sluder also reminded residents that the city’s fireworks show will be held July 3.
• Police Chief Keith Torbet said the department’s annual Youth Police Academy will begin next week. Fourteen youth are participating.
Torbet said the annual Safety City program is just under $1,000 from reaching its $ 5,500 cost, and donations are being accepted.
• Public Service Director Dennis Richardson said the Fulton County CIC was approached by a visitors and tourism bureau, and will hire a part-time director for that purpose.
He said Fulton County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Matt Gilroy organized a tour of Wauseon Machine for representatives from Gov. John Kasich’s office and the Regional Growth Partnership to discuss business challenges and the company’s possible expansion.
Richardson also reported that he and Chief Torbet met with members of the Wauseon Lions Club and representatives from Maumee Valley Planning to discuss ways to improve the city’s bicycle trail crossing at Shoop Avenue.
Torbet added the department would like to install a pedestrian crossing at the Shoop Avenue site similar to a pedestrian crossing in Delta, “but that’s quite a chunk of change.” He said city administrators are investigating ways to fund such a crossing and ways to make the crossing at Shoop Avenue more visible.
• Finance Director Jamie Giguere reported that city income tax revenue increased eight percent over the same time last May.
She also reported that participating city employees completed the first goal in a new wellness plan she initiated for them.
The council passed the third reading of a resolution authorizing the mayor to advertise for, accept the lowest bid for, and enter into a contract for street resurfacing. The resolution becomes active in 30 days.
Council members also voted to reschedule the July 3 City Council meeting to Thursday, June 29, at 5 p.m. in second-floor Council chambers at 230 Clinton St.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.