Sparking Compassion: Community Picnic & Launch Party Recap & Reflections

On Friday, June 14, at the beautiful Valley Park in Hurricane, WV, More Than Addiction held its first ever event—our free Community Picnic and Launch Party. Putnam County Parks & Recreation was generous enough to donate their beautiful shelter—kitchen and all—to our organization. Putnam County Parks & Rec is a vocal supporter of recovery and the renewal of lives. Their generous support made possible an idea, hope, and dream of bringing members of the community, recovery centers and groups, education resources, people in recovery, family members, and advocates together in one space united by a single cause: proving we are all more than addiction.

Here’s how this event took shape…

Back in March, I was at UNC Asheville at the Appalachian Studies Association conference for a panel discussion and reading from 55 Strong. My colleague and I attended a session on rural community branding led by professors and students from WVU’s Brand Journey. In this session I learned about their rebranding of Pineville, WV, and how they eventually, after much traveling and intentional work, hosted an event with speakers and door prizes for the launch of the vibrant new brand of this West Virginia town.

Originally, MTA planned to launch our mission and web site on June, 14, on what was to be my younger brother Bradley Atkins’ 26th birthday, and introduce to the public the stories we had collected. But as I sat in that session and jotted notes, it occurred to me that More Than Addiction, which had already begun accumulating a few likes on Facebook, didn’t need a web site…it needed a party.

So, I pitched the idea to Kate and Shanna, and they both immediately and without hesitation said, “Yes. Let’s do it.” And then, we got to work.

I cannot overstate how important Kate and Shanna are to this organization. Their vision, passion, resources, and convictions are invaluable. Not only were Kate and Shanna assembling teams for local speaking engagements at community schools, but within days, Kate had secured the donation of the event space and Shanna was busy reaching out to her recovery group network to secure necessary and needed resources. And I…well, I went ahead and tackled building a fresh web site for MTA.

In the next couple of months, we sought out donations for giveaways and worked on building connections within our community to help us celebrate our budding organization, and importantly, its mission.

Through the work and giving of many individuals and businesses, including my folks David and Karen Atkins, Kate’s colleagues at NOVA Salon and Spa, my mom’s colleagues at Scissor Sisters, friends like Evan at Appalachian Boarding Company and Robbie at The Drip, other local businesses like Mountain Pie, Belly scRubs, Soul Shine Yoga, and corporations like Lowe’s, Walmart, and Pepsi, we had over twenty giveaways for free raffle drawings and enough refreshments to serve the crowd.

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But I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out an old high school friend, Joey McCutcheon from Maranatha Church, who reached out to us and offered up his church’s food truck ministry. We were blown away by this generous support, and the blessing it was to have all of the food taken care of and off our plates (literally and figuratively). Joey and his outreach team rolled up in their Reach the City truck and served 200 people hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, and water.

And that isn’t all. Here is the full list of giveaways, sponsors, and donors that helped make this event such a huge success…

We also want to acknowledge our incredible speakers for the launch party. We were so very fortunate to hear from these inspiring folks:

  • Cece Brown of Ryan’s Hope. Cece and her husband Bobby lost their son in 2014, and since then, have advocated, lobbied, and tirelessly worked to do some important work in the state of West Virginia. And as a result of their work, the Ryan Brown Recovery Fund Act was passed in 2017, affording funding for 450 new treatment beds in the state.

  • Chief Bobby Eggleton, candidate for Putnam County Sheriff, who is a United States Marine veteran and a Board Member of the WV Chiefs of Police Association. After 20 years, he retired from the Charleston Police Department and has also served as the City of Winfield and Nitro Chief of Police. Chief Eggleton is active is working towards practical and humane solutions to the opioid epidemic.

We also hosted recovery speakers whose inspiring messages held a common theme: Recovery IS possible, and recovery gives you back your life. Huge thanks and gratitude to…

  • Craig Hettlinger

  • Nichole Lively

  • Jason Wickline

And I haven’t even mentioned yet that in the last hour of our event we had the special privilege of hosting local musicians Jon Bassin, Emmy Davis, and The Nolan Brothers. If you’re unfamiliar with their work, you should definitely check out each of them by clicking the links above or the pics below. These folks blew us away with their talent and generosity. I am humbled time and again by the willingness to come together to benefit a cause so many of us hold so close.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the Launch Party picnic was the abundant resources with tables lining the picnic shelter. Too often, people don’t know where to turn. I am so pleased and honored by the support of the following organizations who either provided information or came to set up a table and provide attendees with education and resources:

After a lot of planning and praying, Kate, Shanna, and I were overwhelmed by turn out for our first ever MTA event.

Around 200 people came out and joined us on this beautiful evening—folks from the recovery community, family members, friends, people who loved my brother, people who love other people who are addicted, advocates, recovery group leaders, community members, clergy, and the list goes on. This collection of people is the most important piece…a diverse collection of people willing to own our problems, demonstrate compassion, and actively work towards a solution to a drug epidemic that has ravaged our families and communities.

We are sincerely humbled, honored, and grateful to this important collection of people who helped us celebrate and share the mission of More Than Addiction, hear inspiring perspective and testimony, and enjoy some live music and one another’s company.

Now, it is the job of Kate, Shanna, and I to forge ahead and continue to dream of all the ways stories can change lives, shift the narrative of addiction, and spark compassion.

A special thank you to each of you for joining us, and for making my brother’s first birthday without him one that is deeply meaningful. We appreciate you and your support. Stay tuned for what’s next!

-Karla


More Than Addiction is available for speaking engagements, workshops, story booths, or anything else we can collaborate on or dream up that propels the message of compassion, education, and humanizing addiction forward. Please contact us HERE or by email at morethanaddiction@gmail.com.