Cheryl Jonese has been the voice of prevention in Pocahontas County for the past nine years. As the Pocahontas County Prevention Coalition prevention officer, she has worked diligently to educate students and adults on the dangers of drug abuse.
Last Friday, the Prevention Coalition board of directors surprised Jonese with a plaque honoring her dedication in spreading awareness and her fight to prevent drug abuse in the county.
Thinking she was just meeting family for lunch, Jonese was surprised by members of the board at her office at the Pocahontas County Career Center.
Presenting the plaque was Dr. Pat Browning, a board member whose family knows the loss that comes with drug abuse.
“It’s my pleasure to present you with this plaque in honor of all the work you’ve done with the Take Back Drug program,” Browning said to Jonese. “I understand you started it with the sheriff’s department and the DEA, then you ran with it. I’m sure you worked tirelessly on this because I’ve seen how hard you work for the coalition.”
Browning also thanked Jonese for welcoming her into the coalition and for helping her spread awareness of drug abuse.
“On a personal note, I am so grateful to you and your coalition for taking me in and supporting me in my mission,” Browning said. “It’s truly helped me heal from my loss. You are professional, knowledgeable, compassionate and a real activist. I’m so impressed by all you do for the people of Pocahontas County. It’s been a pleasure working with you, and I hope we can continue our fight against this terrible drug epidemic.”
Jonese thanked the board for the surprise recognition and said she hopes to continue to make strides in educating the county on the dangers of drug abuse.
Jonese first heard of the Prevention Coalition in 2007 and quickly joined the organization, moving on to become prevention officer in 2008.
Leaving the addiction therapist profession, Jonese said she was eager to work with people who hadn’t used drugs instead of working with those who were trying to quit.
“Instead of working with people who have become addicted and trying to change their lives and put their lives back together, I’m working with youth and young people who haven’t gone down that path,” she said.
In the 10 years since she joined the coalition, Jonese has found there is somewhat of a science to prevention. There are tried and true methods that work and, now, with nearly a decade of work under her belt, she sees what works and what doesn’t.
“I think it’s gotten to be more of a science, if you will,” she said. “It used to be, as a coalition, you would say, ‘let’s try this. I think it’s a good idea.’ Now, there really truly is a science where you look at your individual communities as far as risk factors, protective factors and specific programs that will target those areas of need. It’s mostly evidence-based programs that have been tried and proven to be effective.”
In addition to working in Pocahontas County, Jonese travels to counties throughout West Virginia to spread prevention awareness.
Through the years, she has noticed a shift in the way students respond to pressure and has seen proof that her hard work has paid off in a lot of ways.
“We have kids tell us that [it’s easier to say no], especially kids who join our Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter because that gives them some strength in their schools to be strong, to resist the pressures of smoking or drinking or trying marijuana or other kinds of substances,” she said. “It’s hard for kids to resist because it seems to be the most popular thing is to try those things, to explore.
“Kids you join our SADD chapters are really thankful and grateful that that’s a strength they have in their schools now,” she continued. “Across West Virginia we have, I believe, over six hundred SADD chapters now. I believe, nationwide, it’s upwards of forty-thousand who are members of SADD.”
The SADD chapters across the state help each other and Jonese said students really see that connection when they attend the West Virginia SADD Conference which is coming up November 3-5 at Camp Dawson.
“They get to see the strength there,” she said. “They get to see it’s not just my little chapter at Pocahontas County High School, but it’s chapters across the state and then eventually across the nation that are spreading this positive message.”
On top of the programs offered at the schools, Jonese has also helped with the Drug Take Back program and was instrumental in getting the Drug Take Back box installed at the sheriff’s office where individuals can drop off prescription drugs for proper disposal.