Giving back to the community is a phrase that’s become cliché. To the participants in the Jackson County Drug Court, these words have a deeper meaning.

On Feb. 10 several drug court members put together gift bags for the residents of Eldercare Health and Rehabilitation in Ripley.

“To our participants, this was the first time in a long time they’ve been able to do something positive to help others. It was a very special time for them because they’re just getting to the point of giving back – and that’s a huge step. Some of them are new to the program and some have been in for almost a year,” Adult Drug Court Probation Officer in Ripley Ella Dillon said.

When first given the choice of a project, the group decided to choose somewhere a bigger impact could be made. Being that close to Valentines Day, Eldercare was the top choice.

“When they were putting the bags together,” Dillon said, “they were disappointed at the thought that they wouldn’t be giving the gifts in person. So taking them to Eldercare and meeting the residents became the plan for them and some of the 14-member treatment team. And it worked beautifully.”

The Jackson County Adult Drug Court began in early 2019. Although many counties in West Virginia have had the program in place for several years, this county did not. Circuit Court Judge Lora Dyer saw the impact of the drug epidemic every day in her courtroom. She, along with Chief Probation Officer Christopher Johnson, spearheaded the months of planning that went into the process before the drug court was established. Judge Dyer currently oversees the program.

“Our people have hit some hard times in their lives,” Dillon said. “This program gives them a chance to get themselves clean, to be able to be a productive part of the community. Drug courts have been proven to help reduce reoffending and decrease substance abuse.”

One of the best results of the gift bag delivery, according to Dillon, was the sense of pride she witnessed as the participants interacted with the residents.

“Everyone was smiling and in such good spirits,” she said. “There were conversations going on all over the place. As far as the patents were concerned, they loved the gift bags but were most excited to be able to talk and tell their stories to people who were interested. Some even offered to share their candy with us.”

Perhaps the most telling outcome of this first outreach project came as the drug court members left Eldercare.

“The all started giving ideas of what they wanted to do next,” said Dillon.