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OhioCorps proposed to mentor high schoolers vulnerable to drugs

(February 8, 2018) — When Daisy Tolliver graduates from high school, she wants to go into business school and eventually start her own dance studio. She has dreams and aspirations like every high school freshman but faces different challenges than her peers.

Tolliver, a freshman at Waverly High School in Pike County, grew up in a household affected by the opioid epidemic. It wasn’t until she and several of her peers were taken under the wing of Waverly Police Capt. Dennis Crabtree that she felt like she had a voice, she said.

“It’s a real privilege because you can actually wake up and instead of thinking about your mom on drugs, you can think about going to college,” Daisy said.

While Crabtree has been their mentor and provided guidance to them, he still feels the state lacks the resources to support at-risk kids affected by the opioid epidemic.

“It came to a point where I finally had enough of them getting the short end of the stick,” Crabtree said.

His ambition, as well as the determination of the students he was mentoring, eventually led to a meeting with House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and, on Thursday, a news conference announcing legislation that would provide counseling and opportunities to kids across the state.

The OhioCorps bill, which will be sponsored by Republican Reps. Bill Reineke of Tiffin and Scott Ryan of Granville, seeks to give college students the opportunity to mentor at-risk high school students and give high school students the opportunity to volunteer in their communities and earn scholarships.

Ryan said he hopes introduction of the bill will be the “snowball at the top of the mountain” and attract investments from private business and nonprofit agencies.

Ohio University President Duane Nellis spoke in support of the legislation at the news conference. Nellis said OU already has several initiatives to help fight the opioid epidemic, including a task force and an initiative by the university’s medical school to provide services for opioid-addicted mothers.

“For a crisis of this magnitude, we truly need all hands on deck,” Nellis said. “Many of the communities where OU has a physical presence are hurting because of this epidemic. Due to our proximity to our hardest hit areas, it affects many in our Bobcat family.”

The bill also has the support of the Inter-University Council of Ohio. Council President Bruce E. Johnson said mentorship programs could begin in 2019 and 2020, if the legislation passes. Johnson said pilot projects may precede the full project.

Johnson said giving at-risk students a chance to earn scholarships and an opportunity to go to college could improve their chances of survival. He cited research by Ohio State University that found people with only high school degrees are 14 times as likely to have an opioid overdose as people with four-year college degrees.

Desi Swepston, another student from Waverly who wants to use her own experiences to become a child psychologist, said having a mentor and a support group made her feel as if she wasn’t alone.

“We’ve all been through the same thing,” Desi said. “We all feel the same way. We feel that we’re getting treated differently than the kids who grew up in homes with support.”