“I’m just one of the moms who volunteers here who decided it’s time to fight back and pull our community together. I think it’s important and vital and we really need that,” said Lisa White, of Tilden Twp., at a recent meeting of the newly formed organization focused on stopping the drug problem in the Hamburg area.
Held at the Journey Café in Hamburg on July 24, the group of concerned citizens as well as representatives of Teen Challenge, church members and police officers met for the seventh time since forming in May. CODE RED (Citizens Opposing the Drug Epidemic …Respond, Educate, Demonstrate), as the group is currently known, is a grassroots effort begun by concerned citizens and organizations focused on combating and defeating the growing illegal drug problem in the community. White along with friend Jennifer Popisil, of Shoemakersville, started the grassroots effort.
“Myself and Jennifer are big community activists,” said White at the recent meeting. “We’re trying to pull together the community. We have a big problem in our community, we have drugs.”
White’s own family has been affected by drug addiction which was a big push in starting this effort.
According to the group, those involved believe that success in dealing with the drug problem and healing those already affected by addiction is in a large part spiritual. Leaders from The Bridge Church and Zion churches are already heavily involved with the effort. Partnering with CODE RED is Teen Challenge which is a 50 year old faith-based drug rehabilitation program with the local branch located in Rehrersburg.
“We have an opportunity here,” said Bruce Shollenberger, a Bridge Church member. “We’re engaged with an organization that is very spiritually strong and they know how to address the drug problem because they all lived it. And they all lived the transformation of their life. They really can relate to those that have problems.”
White’s daughter and Shollenberger’s son were both present at the meeting and are a part of Teen Challenge.
Teen Challenge coordinators and counselors at the meeting are ready to help with the drug problem in the area.
“The mayor wants Teen Challenge to come in and help because there is a drug, not epidemic, it’s a pandemic throughout the world,” said Peter McMenamin, of Teen Challenge. “It’s a pandemic. It’s all over. And this town, wouldn’t it be nice to take back this town? The way it was back when? When families were comfortable to go to the park and enjoy themselves?”
Addressing children was emphasized at the meeting as it seems that the age group starts younger and younger. Robert Diaz Jr., of Teen Challenge, spoke about the organization’s Stay Sharp program that educates students with real testimonials and how the younger people who have started to heal from their addiction can relate to the children that either have started or would possibly start.
Tilden Township Chief of Police William J. McEllroy III spoke at the meeting about his experiences as a police officer for 14 years including four of those years spent as a Hamburg Borough Police officer. One thing he mentioned was knowing about even middle school age children having access to illegal drug dealers in the area.
“There’s any drug up here that you can get. A lot of people, because there are not constantly drug arrests in the paper, think that we don’t have a drug problem because Hamburg is a very nice community,” said McEllroy. “It has a lot of nice features to it and there are a lot of nice people in Hamburg. I think that if you’re not reading something daily you’re like ‘Oh well our community is safe’ when it’s unfortunately a lie.”
“I would love to see other solutions other than just arresting people. You have to fix things before people are truly going to be helped and on their way,” he continued. “I’m encouraged here so I’m glad to help out however I can.”
A big part of taking back the town and helping to deal with the illegal drug problem that the group highlighted was eliminating the stereotype of drug users.
“We have to get rid of that stereotype that it knows only certain families,” said White. “We have a huge problem that’s affecting every community so we need to take our streets back, get rid of the dealers and save our kids.”
CODE RED and Teen Challenge have a number of events in the works including a booth at The Taste of Hamburg-er Festival, Teen Challenge coming into town regularly and a community forum that they are planning for September.