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Dinner, Dessert, and Direct Talk: Reducing Stigma, Finding Solutions, and Increasing Hope

A crowd of 80 Burke County residents gathered at the Morganton Community House Tuesday, May 24th, to enjoy an evening of dinner, dessert, and direct talk around mental health and substance abuse.


The event titled, “Dinner, Dessert, & Direct Talk: Reducing Stigma, Finding Solutions, and Increasing Hope,” did just that as speakers shared stories of recovery, inspiration, and collaborative initiatives in Burke County that are improving and saving lives.


The event opened with a welcome from Chief Community Operations Officer for Partners Behavioral Health Management, Paul Caldwell. Caldwell emphasized the importance of communities coming together to address mental health and substance use issues. He shared the success of Burke Integrated Health as a means of providing care to the whole person. Caldwell noted, “Burke County shows up. The people genuinely care and come together around difficult issues.”


Joe Marks, Executive Director of Burke Recovery, was introduced next to speak on the topic of stigma. Articulate and well dressed, Marks challenged the audience to envision what they think an alcoholic looks like. “Does it look like me?” he asked, emphasizing that as human beings we all may hold some judgments and stereotypes, but that the disease of addiction knows no race, socio-economic status, or gender. Marks, who is in recovery, shared his personal story of finding recovery. “So many people don’t get help because of the stigma associated with being labeled as an addict or an alcoholic. We have to change that, we have to be mindful of the language we use, because that language shapes how we think and how we act.”


Sheriff Steve Whisenant shared the grim statistics on drug use in Burke County, highlighting the growing use of prescription drugs and opiate addictions. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We have to start by looking at youth so that they don’t start using to begin with.” The Sheriff’s office has taken a proactive stance to address these issues by partnering with community groups like the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Burke Recovery, BSAN, the Strategic Alliance for Burke Youth, and others in an effort to proactively change the landscape of Burke County by promoting positive programs that serve the community and in turn reduce drug use and isolation.


One grey area in addressing mental health and substance use disorders arises in the context of the workplace. Andrew M Walsh, MBA, JD, General Counsel and CLO for Partners Behavioral Health Management, and Jessica H. Pape, Chief Human Resources Officer Partners Behavioral Health Management discussed the legal issues related to employee’s rights and employer responsibilities to assist individuals disclosing information about mental health/substance use issues that may be affecting their ability to perform current duties. They also provided information about benefits of Employee Assistance Programs, and offered access to their presentation, which provides information about how to handle work related issues that arise, to Burke County employers and Human Resource professionals who may be interested. Please contact sarahdergins@gmail.com for more information if you are interested.


The final speaker of the evening, Zackary “Nubs” Paben, arrived dressed in full Viking gear - donning a kilt and shield. Paben is co-Founder of More Heart Than Scars, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to give individuals the tools and assistance they need to overcome their personal traumas, challenges, and diseases, so that they may find pleasure and pride in their life pursuits. More Heart Than Scars has assisted dozens of people, including quadriplegics, visually impaired individuals, and those with mental health diagnosis, overcome challenges ranging from hiking the Appalachian Trail to completing grade school to finishing Obstacle Course Races. 


Paben shared that at age 10 he experienced a horrific accident that led to PTSD, addiction and clinical depression.  He began his journey in recovery at age 19 and has maintained sobriety since then.  While he has continued to struggle with depression, his work to empower others has empowered him. Despite physical, and mental health issues, he has been able to have a significant impact on the Adaptive Athlete movement worldwide through More Heart Than Scars.


The evening closed with Adult and Child Collaborative Liaison, Teagan Brown, and Child Collaborative Chair, Sarah Dergins sharing ways to become a community partner and the opportunities to utilize resources in Burke County. The Burke Adult Collaborative meets the third Thursday of each month at the Foothills Higher Ed Building in room 152 at 9AM. The Burke Child Collaborative meets the first Monday of each month at the Family Infant Preschool Program Admin Building on the J. Iverson Riddle Campus at 8:30 AM. The Burke Substance Abuse Network meets the last Friday of each month for a free breakfast and program at 7:30 AM at the Morganton Community House.


Finally, Dergins and Brown shared the multitude of trainings available for free to community members, led by trained and certified professionals. These trainings include Youth Mental Health First Aid, Adult Mental Health First Aid, Buffering Toxic Stress,

Darkness to Light Trainings to prevent Child Sexual Abuse, Crisis Intervention Team Trainings, Question Persuade Refer Suicide prevention training, and Child and Family Team Meetings. For more information on bringing these trainings to your area please contact Kim Rhoads at KRhoads@partnersbhm.org.


The event was hosted and sponsored by the Burke County Child and Adult Collaboratives. The mission of each Collaborative is to promote the sharing of resources and accountability across agencies and programs on behalf of families and children who have significant behavioral and mental health needs and to build community capacity to provide effective, community-based, family and youth driven services that are delivered within a System of Care philosophy. The Burke County Collaborative is managed by Partners Behavioral Health Management, which is contracted by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to operate as a Local Management Entity/Managed Care Organization for Burke, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Surry and Yadkin counties. 


To get involved in the Burke Child or Adult Collaborative as well as the Burke Substance Abuse Network please contact Sarah Dergins at sarahdergins@gmail.com or Teagan Brown at tbrown@caringalternative.com.

© 2019 A Caring Alternative. Developed by VanNoppen.