Western Sussex Chamber celebration punctuated by Sussex Goes Purple challenge

It’s sheer delight as the red ribbon is snipped by chamber office assistant Casey Johnson and Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynn Harman.

SEAFORD – An open house/ribbon cutting Thursday evening marked the Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce’s new Sussex Highway location.

The gala celebration was accompanied by an invitation and a chamber-based challenge to join the local battle in the nationwide war on the drug/opioid epidemic: Sussex Goes Purple.

“It is something that has been pressing on my mind and my heart for quite some time. And I know a lot of people here have been affected by the opiate crisis here in this state, in this county, in these towns,” said Lynn Harman, Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. “We’ve got to do something. It’s going to literally take a village to get a handle on this. What better place to start but with the chamber of commerce and the businesses.”

“We are going issue a chamber challenge,” said Ms. Harman. “There are so many ways to get involved as a business organization. It is about education. It’s about prevention. It’s about treatment. And there are so many ways that we can get involved and help. It’s not a stigma. This affects everybody. It’s not just a rural or urban area or certain type of person that is poor or of a certain race; it’s not. So, we want to make sure that we together support each other and join together to support Sussex County Health Coalition and the Sussex Goes Purple initiative.”

Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynn Harman, left, introduces Peggy Geisler, executive director of the Sussex County Health Coalition.

Peggy Geisler, executive director of the nonprofit Sussex County Health Coalition that has been working to initiate the local Go Purple initiative, spoke about the drug epidemic.

“Every day in this state somebody dies. It is the leading cause of death in Delaware, right now,” Ms. Geisler said. “What I am going to tell you is we are not alone. Every state is challenged by this epidemic. It’s complex and we need a complex solution.”

“Awareness? People say, ‘We are aware there is an opioid epidemic.’ Are you aware where you get treatment? Do you know how to tell somebody else how to get help? Do you know where there is support mechanisms? Do you know what is being taught to your kids in schools around prevention education? If you don’t know the answer to all those things, then we are not aware. We all should know those answers,” said Ms. Geisler. “We should help our community members, our partners, our friends, our businesses, our family. Be that support. Be that solution or be somebody that helps somebody that gets to the solution for them.”

Ms. Geisler said there are many ways to recovery and many ways to prevent the addiction. “Just by knowledge, by awareness, by information. This is not only in our state. It’s a bi-state initiative. Half of Maryland has turned purple, but by next week I will be announcing that all of Delaware will Go Purple,” Ms. Geisler announced. “That’s a grassroots movement. The state didn’t pay for that. We paid for that in our people. Our people stepping up, wearing purple. What does that mean? That makes people know something is going on and we can all be part of it. Whether you donate money, whether you wear the color, it says we support this. We know it’s an issue. We want to be involved. And that’s all we are asking. Please join us. It’s just the beginning.”

Tragic stories about local families within the local business community that lost loved ones to drugs were shared.

Rob Harman, Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce board of directors member, reads a letter from John Rittenhouse, who lost a son to opioid addiction last fall.

“It all starts sometimes with just prescription medications,” said Rob Harman, a member of the Western Sussex Chamber’s board of directors. “These are not bad people. They just made one bad decision. And Lynn was right; it is going to take an entire village of awareness to be able to spot when things are going on, and to be able to bring the help to where it needs to be when it needs to be there. And that’s about the only way that we are ever going to stop this thing.”

“I don’t know of a family that is in this area that hasn’t been touched in some way by drug overdoses,” said Mr. Harman. “I had a daughter that struggled with it for years. Fortunately, she found her way to the other side and I am blessed that she did. But there are so many who do not make it through that transition, and a good portion of what we need to do here tonight is to just be aware of how this is growing and how this is affecting everything.”

“We are asking you to join us,” said Mr. Harman, echoing his wife’s words. “It is an important challenge that we have here. We think our chamber, as strong as it is and as loving as it is to each other and the way we communicate and how well we communicate with each other, this was a good starting place for it.”

In attendance was State Sen. Bryant Richardson, who shared information on the Delaware Youth Drug Prevention Curriculum Task Force, which will begin meeting Sept. 10, and the Botvin LifeSkills program.

Linda Gunson passes out informational packets on the Sussex Goes Purple initiative, targeting the drug/opioid epidemic.

“We have required in K-12 to have a drug prevention curriculum in each one of those grades. There is an effort started about 25 years by Dr. Botvin. It’s in some of our schools now. It is also in the Boys & Girls Club,” said Sen. Richardson. “I think the solution is this Botvin curriculum in all of the grades in our schools. For every dollar you invest in this program you save the state $50 in drug treatment programs, in prisons, in law enforcement and in court appearances and so forth. And think of the lives that will be saved because of this.”

“It is an epidemic,” Sen. Richardson said. “We’re going to try to do something about it. It’s not going to change overnight. But if we can let our young people know from K-12 and educate them about the perils of the drugs I think we can save a lot of lives.”

Project Purple

Crossroad Community Church on Sept. 11 is the staging venue for Project Purple, featuring Chris Herren, whose college and professional basketball careers were punctuated by addiction and drug use.

Project Purple, a non-profit foundation created by Mr. Herren, was launched to help break the scar of addiction, bring awareness to the danger of substance abuse and encourage others to navigate life’s challenges through positive decisions.

In the Sept. 11 Project Purple initiative, which begins at 7 p.m., Mr. Herren, now 42, will share his story from addiction and loss to recovery and hope.

Mr. Herren played collegiately at Boston College (he was expelled for failing drug tests) and Fresno State and played one year each in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics before playing professionally abroad in Italy, Poland, Turkey, China, Germany and Iran.

Ms. Harman is hoping for a large turnout of chamber members and Sussex Goes Purple supporters.

“Crossroads Community Church in Georgetown, they can hold 1,500. We want to fill that church,” she said.

Western Sussex Chamber

The chamber made its move from downtown Seaford to the 26673 Sussex Highway location in late December 2017. With it in late January came an official name change, from Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce to Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce.

Chartered as the Seaford Chamber of Commerce in 1954, the chamber in 1975 expanded its service area to include Greenwood to Blades.

A membership survey undertaken last fall indicated “that we weren’t truly representing the area that we serve because even though we said ‘Greater Seaford’ we didn’t really kind of encompass the whole,” said Ms. Harman. “People identify with Western Sussex County, Delaware. So, we wanted to incorporate that and really send a message, a one-voice, collective message that we are here to support this as an economic development, and support community impact like we are doing in helping with the Go Purple. And also really building our tourism in Western Sussex. That is something that people don’t realize that we have here. They go to the beach and they don’t realize what is west of (US) 113.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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