Lawmakers trying to help at-risk kids impacted by the opioid epidemic and poverty

(WCMH PHOTO)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – Thousands of young people across Ohio feel like their dreams are slipping away, and hope in their future is fading, as their parents fall victim to opioids and crushing poverty.

Nearly a year ago a police officer in Waverly, Ohio decided to do something about that, after seeing the loss of hope in the eyes of the teenagers in his community.

Captain Dennis Crabtree has been a police officer for 14 years and throughout his career he has had to show up at homes for domestic disturbances and drug related offenses that resulted in him having to take a parent away in handcuffs.

He says he never realized the psychological effect the image of him hauling the adult off to jail had on their children, until a young teenage girl took her life.

Having felt like he has contributed to the mental anguish the teens are dealing with, Crabtree reached out to several of them after an assembly at the high school last year.

He wanted to mentor them; to show them that there was hope for their future and that they were not alone in this world, even if they felt like they were.

Crabtree says it was difficult at first; they simply didn’t trust him.

“I had three things against me from the get go; one, I’m a cop; two, I’m an adult; and three, I’m a man; and the three things they hate, I was all of them,” said Crabtree.

Desi Swepston is a freshman at Waverly High School and a friend of the girl who took her only lie. She agrees; she didn’t trust him at first.

“At first it was pretty had to trust him, like, with my background with my dad; and police officers, I just don’t trust in general because of everything; and he’s an adult and adults tend to let a lot of us down a lot,” said Swepston.

Now, 11 months later, he has earned the trust of Swepston and nearly a dozen other students who came with him to the Statehouse Thursday. He is trying not to let them down.

They all participated in the announcement of the OhioCorps program which is designed to help kids just like Swepston and the 10 other teenage girls from Pike County who were with her at the capitol.

The OhioCorps program seeks to connect at-risk youth with college-aged mentors and would provide financial assistance to students who expect to see no financial help from their families for college, or who are impacted by family struggling with opioid addiction.

The specifics of the program are still being hashed out and a bill is expected to be introduced to the general assembly in the coming weeks.

Presidents of several State Universities as well as the Speaker of the House, who represents Pike County, stood with the 11 teenage girls for the announcement.

Additionally, the girls meet with the President of the Senate and Governor Kasich on separate occasions.

Governor Kasich was so taken by their stories he has pledged to help with funding for other needs they, their families, and other families like theirs across Ohio have.

Swepston says all of this has helped change her mind that some adults, even police officers, can be trusted.

Lawmakers will have to move swiftly to get the legislation through the legislative process before the general assembly come to an end in December.

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