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Students hear about dangers of opioids

Students and faculty at West County High School and Middle School gathered in the high school gymnasium to hear about the dangers and prevalence of opioid addiction in the community and region at large.

Robert Riley II, co-founder of the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery, was joined by others involved with the organization’s southern outreach group which meets at Mineral Area College.

Riley began his presentation by showing a short animated video depicting how addiction takes its hold on a person’s life. Next, he illustrated the statistical prevalence of addiction by asking that one-fifth of the students stand.

“Look around,” Riley said. “Statistically speaking, those are your drug addicts and alcoholics.

“Do you see how random that is? That’s because we don’t have a test that says if you’re going to be a drug addict or alcoholic. It doesn’t matter if you have one parent in the home, both parents in the home, if you’re white, African American, Hispanic or if you’re rich or poor. It affects everyone.”

Riley said 85 percent of heroin addicts start out on prescription pain pills, which are often prescribed after surgery or sports injuries.

“All opioids are highly addictive,” he said. “I used to tell [students] when you get your wisdom teeth taken out and you get that prescription, to just keep an eye on it. Now, I’m telling you guys to let your parents hold onto that prescription. Because it’ll get ahold of you before you even know it.”

Illustrating the point by having two students stand, Riley said the fastest rising demographic of heroin users are 18-24 year old white females, while the current largest overall heroin user population is made up of 18-24 year old white males.

“So whatever idea you have that it’s some tattooed guy living under a bridge, or that it’s a North St. Louis problem or East St. Louis problem — get that out of your mind. People are dying everywhere, and they’re dying out here too.”

Riley introduced Cheryl Haws, who heads up the St. Francois County meetings in affiliation with Riley’s organization. Haws’ son has battled with addiction for five years, and she spoke to the students about what addiction is like from a mother’s perspective.

“It affects the entire family whenever you have an addict in the family, or someone with substance abuse disorder,” Haws said. “If you have a friend or if you yourself have a problem, go to your mom and dad. Don’t wait. Don’t feel like they’re going to be ashamed of you or they’re going to be mad at you. They’re going to want to help you.”

Haws said after trying to help her son on her own, she was able to find help and resources through the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery, which enabled her to more effectively provide help.

“One of the things I learned from Robert is to never give up,” she said. “That’s the information I would give to your parents because we have to learn how to deal with addiction.”

Riley then explained how an addiction to prescription painkillers can quickly spin out of control, leading to a greater risk for substance abuse. Using two student volunteers, he demonstrated how a person might take one pill at a party then develop tolerance, requiring twice as many pills to gain the same effect the next week, and twice again the next week and so on.

“What happens is on Wednesday, we don’t even make it to Friday or Saturday,” he said. “Our stomachs are starting to feel a little upset. Our hands are clammy and it kind of feels like we’re getting the flu.

“These prescription pills are highly addictive,” he said. “Your brain doesn’t know the difference between what the doctor gives you in that prescription and the heroin from the ‘dope man.’ And that’s where the switch takes place. We go get some heroin from the ‘dope man’ because it’s so much cheaper.”

Riley then told the students his own story of addiction and recovery, beginning with his father’s incarceration and ending with the work he’s able to accomplish now through his organization.

“When I was 14 years old, I found alcohol,” he said. “My story is like this: I tried whiskey the first time. Within one week, I had smoked weed, done some cocaine and I was on my way to Compton, California to smoke some PCP. That was my story. Why? Because I’m that one in five.”

Riley told how he found a sense of belonging in substance abuse, which resulted in his admittance to juvenile detention and ultimately prison on federal drugs and money laundering charges.

It was in federal prison that another inmate who was serving a life sentence told Riley that if he didn’t change something, he would also spend his life behind bars. Upon getting out of prison, Riley moved to a halfway house in St. Louis and started working a job.

He and Chad Sabora started working to help heroin addicts in St. Louis before founding the nonprofit Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery, enabling them to work to affect real change at both the state and local level. Among their accomplishments are two pieces of legislation, one related to Narcan use and one to protect drug users who call 911 when their friends overdose.

“Who would of thought?” Riley said. “I was standing behind the governor when he signed into law something I helped write on my couch — and I can’t even vote!”

Riley then took questions from the students and faculty, explaining the motivations for heroin users, the dangers of other drugs like marijuana and how to get help for those who need it.

For more information about the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery, visit

Gutters donated to local shelter

A former Home Depot employee who now works for Missouri Workforce Development recently learned of an urgent need at a Parkland shelter for the homeless and, with the assistance of the home improvement company’s Festus location, provided Shared Blessings in Bonne Terre with the necessary materials and labor — as well as an extra little surprise — all at no cost to the charity.

Army veteran Alvin Sutton, a Desloge resident and city alderman, works for the state of Missouri as a Workforce Development specialist — a position funded by a Department of Labor Grant and designed to provide services to veterans and eligible spouses that will assist in their transition into meaningful civilian employment.

“As a part of my job, I visit places like Shared Blessings, looking for veterans who might benefit from the services I provide under the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program,” Sutton said. “A lot of the people that Shared Blessings helps are veterans. I noticed a month or two ago on the Shared Blessings webpage that they were looking for donations of gutters and downspouts to repair and/or replace the existing guttering that was in bad shape.”

Having worked for the home improvement company in the past, Sutton was aware of the Home Depot Foundation and thought it might be able to provide the shelter with the help it so desperately needed.

“Every year the Home Depot Foundation grants millions of dollars to nonprofit partners across the country whose programs focus on ending veteran homelessness, creating housing for critically wounded veterans and ensuring aging veterans have a safe place to call home,” he said. “When I worked at Home Depot, they were always doing something in the community. It wasn’t just for veterans, but they did have a part where they would go out and do something for veterans to potentially improve their quality of life.”

Sutton contacted his former manager, Ben Ragain, at the Festus location and explained Shared Blessings’ need.

“I asked him, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ and of course he was eager and receptive,” Sutton said. “He took the ball and ran with it from there and here we are.”

Ragain explained that after learning of Shared Blessings’ needs for gutters and downspouts, it quickly became what is called a Team Depot Project.

“Home Depot has a Team Depot Foundation that is committed to helping the community, but most importantly focuses on veterans,” he said. “We visited Shared Blessings and the tie-in with veterans allowed us to submit an application to get a grant to pay for — not just repairing what was damaged — but a whole new package of all new gutters and downspouts for the entire facility.”

According to Ragain, the estimate submitted to the foundation for the cost of the project totaled $3,800.

“Typically, it takes about three weeks to find out if the request is approved or denied,” he said. “In this case it only took 24 hours for them to approve it and we were able to move forward. The nice thing is that we have a separate division of Home Depot called Home Depot Exteriors (HDE) that comes out and does all the work for us.”

The team performed the entire installation at Shared Blessings on Oct. 24.

“They did the install,” Ragain said. “All the materials came straight off their truck, but was still done through our store.”

It was then that Ragain revealed a surprise that neither Sutton or Shared Blessings had been aware of previously.

“Since we weren’t really able to come down from the store and do the work ourselves, right now in the back of my truck I have around 450 canned goods to give to Shared Blessings,” he said. “We’ve got about 105 associates at the store. We wanted to do something since we’re used to going out into the community and doing the hands-on work.

"The guys from HDE came out and did the actual labor today, so the associates in the store really wanted to get involved. We decided to set a goal of about 400 canned goods and we collected 450. I know that [Shared Blessings Director] Shelly Bess talked about a big Thanksgiving dinner and a lot of folks that come through here to get that, so we thought it was important to bring some food to help out.”

Bess expressed her thanks for the donation of the guttering, labor and canned goods provided the homeless shelter.

"For about five years we have needed gutters desperately," she said. "The ice off the roof took the gutters off. Some places never had gutters before. Thanks so much to Alvin Sutton for noticing that we needed gutters and remembering the Home Depot project serving veterans.

"I pulled up and it made such an astronomical difference. It will so beneficial in the winter and then into the spring months. Our building was built in 1910 and we can't afford to do the maintenance to it, so when something like this is done for us, we are just humbly grateful for everything.

"As far as the donated canned goods, Thanksgiving is coming around the corner where I believe we'll feed over 2,000 people this year. Those 450 canned goods won't be on Grove Street very long."

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Ornaments to benefit Shared Blessings

Hand-made alcohol ink Christmas ornaments are being sold to help benefit Shared Blessings this holiday season at The Fancy Crow in Bonne Terre and it all came together through community support.

The Fancy Crow Owner Shari House said they have glass ornaments that are all hand-decorated with alcohol ink paint and it all started with one of The Fancy Crow’s consignors.

“Jackie Roberts does the alcohol ink painting and she asked if we could do something to benefit Shared Blessings with the ornaments,” explained House. “So we scheduled some classes and we held three of them.”

House said people came to the classes and paid $2 to participate in the class, which was to cover materials.

“Jackie donated the money back to Shared Blessings and for the $2 they got to decorate three ornaments,” said House. “One of them they were able to keep and the other two were to put on a tree here in The Fancy Crow.”

House said they are selling those ornaments there and all the proceeds from them go to Shared Blessings. She added Roberts donated all of the materials, the ornaments, ink paint and ribbon while The Fancy Crow donated some ribbons and the tags for the ornaments and space on their tree.

“If somebody comes in and they want to buy an ornament, they aren’t priced,” House said. “They can pay whatever amount they choose to pay. They will get the ornament and Shared Blessing will get 100 percent of the funds that come toward that.”

House added they have several ornaments already and people are making very nice donations. She said she is very excited Roberts came up with the idea and they are happy to host it there.

“This is for great cause and Shared Blessing is a super resource for our community,” said House. “I hope people consider stopping in to help support them. Each one comes with a nice tag with the Shared Blessing logo and it says it was handmade on their behalf.”

The Fancy Crow is located at 28 Paul St. in Bonne Terre, behind Walgreens.

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Man charged with abuse

An area man was arrested and charged in a child abuse case in Park Hills involving his adopted son.

Jeffrey Sawtelle, 50, of Park Hills, is being charged with a class D felony of abuse or neglect of a child.

According to a probable cause statement, on Oct. 3, a woman came into the Park Hills Police Department of her own freewill to speak to a detective and the Division of Family Services in reference to an ongoing investigation involving her adopted son, who is less than 18-years-old.

The detective read the woman her Miranda Rights and she chose to continue to speak with officials. She was asked to explain the bruises on her son’s back and side and she said her husband, Sawtelle, spanked the boy with a belt on Sept. 19 when he got home from work.

The woman said the reason Sawtelle spanked the boy was because while she was at church with the child, he apparently ate their 4-year-old child’s food and was confronted about it. The boy got mad and went in the church bathroom where he pooped and then smeared it on the walls of the bathroom.

She said she was too mad to handle the discipline so she asked Sawtelle to handle it. She said when he got home he took the boy to the bedroom and spanked him with a belt. She did not witness the spanking, but knew it happened.

The woman denied seeing any bruising on the boy and wasn’t even aware of it until she was sent photographs of them by Sawtelle on Sept. 29. Apparently he had taken the boy to the doctor for a checkup and get medicine.

The doctor noticed the bruises and reported it to the Missouri Abuse Hotline and Sawtelle told the woman that he had no idea how it happened. He said the boy claimed a teacher or a student did it. The woman said Sawtelle has a bad temper and has acted out his anger by punching holes in their walls and even knocked a window out of their vehicle.

The detective asked the woman if she felt the bruising was excessive and she agreed it was. The detective then spoke with Sawtelle and asked him to explain how the boy’s back and side got bruised.

The detective reported that Sawtelle initially denied knowing what happened to the boy and it was claimed that his wife asked him to handle disciplining the boy for eating the 4-year-olds food and smearing his poop all over the church bathroom walls.

Sawtelle admitted to using a belt and swatting the boy twice on his butt. The detective explained to Sawtelle that there was no way that two swats on the butt bruised the boy’s back and side like that. The detective also said there were at least three to five swats.

Sawtelle eventually admitted that he wasn’t sure how many swats he gave and that the belt probably did hit him on the side. Sawtelle said he didn’t mean to hurt the boy, but he was trying to get away from the belt.

Sawtelle also admitted that the spanking was excessive and that he was sorry for what he had done. The reason he didn’t tell the truth from the start was because he said he was afraid and ashamed. At that time Sawtelle was released pending the application of formal charges.

The detective wrote in his report that when the bruises were first viewed on Sept. 28, it was one solid mass and he couldn’t tell what may have caused it. The boy told the detective he had fallen on his bike and the detective asked him to show him where he landed on his bike.

The boy led him to a green bike and pointed to the kickstand area of the bike and said he fell on that. He also said he was sure that is what happened. The boy also told two other officers the same thing.

The detective said they had also been informed that the boy told other people that kids in his neighborhood did it, teachers did it and students at school did it. The detective said he was told that the boy is autistic and has very limited ability to communicate.

A few days later the detective received more photographs of the bruised area and now that the bruise was settled, several defining lines could be seen, which were consistent with numerous belt strikes.

A warrant was issued for Sawtelle on Oct. 18 and was served on Oct. 20. A $10,000 bond was posted that same day and Sawtelle's arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 7 at 9 a.m.

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Clubhouse enjoys new home

In the six months since the Friends In Action Clubhouse moved to its brand new facility in Farmington, everybody involved with the center, located next door to the El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant on Walden Drive, say the extra space and special features were well worth more than a decade of waiting.

"Our new facility is around 4,500 square feet, compared to the old one that was only 2,500 square feet," said Community Support Specialist Mike Hunt. "So we almost doubled in size and it's definitely a more efficient use of space. The old facility was more of a retrofitted house in a residential area of Park Hills. This is much more conducive to the work that we do."

The clubhouse is a psychosocial rehabilitation center in Farmington that provides a place for those with severe mental illness to socialize, participate in activities, build life skills and gain independence. It is operated by BJC Behavioral Health.

In 2015, FIAC was accredited by Clubhouse International, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating sustainable solutions for mental illness. It evaluates more than 300 clubhouses worldwide to make sure they are strictly following international standards.

Along with several offices and a reception center, the new clubhouse features a large meeting/social room, state-of-the-art industrial kitchen, restroom/shower facilities, art studio, snack area and exercise area with equipment donated by Parkland Health Center and Behavioral Health physicians.

There is even a floral shop where members learn the art of flower arrangement. The items are available for purchase by the general public, with proceeds going to the clubhouse. The shop is accessible through a separate entrance at the center.

According to Hunt, FIAC has an active membership of about 200 people and serve approximately 100 of that total every month. The center's average daily attendance is more than 30 members, but he said the center's goal is to raise that number to 50.

"In our old facility, when you had 30 people there, it was crowded. There wasn't room to do anything and it was really loud. It just didn't work out well. There is much better space management in this facility, so we can complete the things we need to do in a more efficient way.

"We're in a more centralized location, so we're more accessible to a lot more people. We have a good handful of our members who drive in — and they would drive in anyway — but being in Farmington we have some who ride their bikes and some that walk in. We have an integrated campus with our clubhouse and our outpatient clinic across the street."

Hunt went on to explain that clubhouse members, residents and staff can access the nearby BJC Behavioral Health Services outpatient clinic on Maple Street by walking over a bridge without ever having to go out in traffic.

In addition, the clubhouse is located next door to the Friendship House Apartments. While the complex's residency is overseen by East Missouri Action Agency, Hunt said many of the apartment residents are clubhouse members.

Asked what members do at the clubhouse, Hunt said, "Our program is designed to help people become independent and to regain self-esteem and self-worth through their accomplishments. The clubhouse is a place where people can feel needed, wanted and respected.

"We accomplish that by having meaningful work that we engage in during the day, which is everything we need to do to run our organization. The members are involved in every aspect of our clubhouse.

"We have folks who come in every day and make lunch and work in the kitchen. We have folks who come in and work on spreadsheets for our financials. Our members work the front desk, do reception, do clerical work and help with the transportation and work in the floral shop."

One of the greatest services offered by the clubhouse is finding temporary work — usually running about six months — for its members. Hunt said the jobs are usually entry level and ones that are difficult for employers to keep filled.

Once an employer offers a position, Hunt goes to the business and learns the job himself. Then, after the clubhouse member begins working, Hunt trains them for a week or so to make sure they know how to do their job and do it well.

"The clubhouse members usually do a great job because having the position is very important to them," Hunt explained. "Many of them have never had a job before and so they are proud to be working and want to do their very best."

He added that some employers keep the club member on after the six-month period.

"What's really great for the employer is that, if the club member can't come to work because they're sick or for some other reason, I will come over and work the shift for them at no charge. I love doing this and I love seeing our club members getting a chance to work hard and have a sense of pride."

For more information about FIAC, call Hunt at 573-760-8360.