Students, faculty and family flooded Baker Ballroom Tuesday night to raise awareness about addiction.

The Ohio University School of Nursing hosted its third annual Purple Gala to collect donations and inform people about local women and families affected by the opioid addiction epidemic, as well as overcoming other addictions.

The event helps the local Serenity Grove Women’s Recovery House, which is a safe space for women in recovery of addiction.

Kendal Miller, a senior studying nursing, was one of the six leaders who made the event possible.

“The purple gala is an amazing event that I’ve looked forward to since I was a sophomore,” Miller said. 

The black tie event began at 6 p.m. with the attendees checking their coats and taking elegant photos in front of the designated backdrop.

At 6:30 p.m., people were encouraged to get dinner and relax while enjoying the opening act dance performance from the OU Vibrations dance team. Once the crowd was warmed up, the speakers began to take the stage. 

Eliza Harper, assistant professor of instruction within the College of Health Sciences and Professions, started off the lineup of speakers by talking about how the event came to be. The idea was to inform students of the opioid crisis within the university and Athens at large. Harper then read The Brown Bottle by Penny Jones, seemingly a children’s book that talks about a caterpillar and his addiction to living inside of a lost brown bottle. The parallels between the caterpillar lined up with what survivors of addiction go through.

The evening continued with Carol Schaumleffel, an assistant professor in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, and then moved onto Janalee Stock and Betsy Anderson, two representatives from Serenity Grove. Stock talked to the audience about opening their eyes to the devastation in the area from the crisis, and how pharmaceutical companies seemed to focus on profit over people’s lives. 

Anderson talked about moving forward with optimism and hope, and then showed off the garage conversion project that the fundraising from the OU nursing school went toward. The staff of Serenity Grove completely redid the garage to have more light, a bathroom and an office space.

Next came Theressa Snyder from Perry Behavioral Health, and a video called “Welcome to Denial, Ohio,” which was a satire on people denying the idea that the opioid crisis and addiction in general are important issues. Following the video, Meg Saunders, an Athens County prosecutor, spoke to the audience, and a team from the Hocking County Project Hope gave some useful statistics for people to know. 

The audience, comprised of about 200 people, then took a brief intermission to listen to a performance from the OU a capella group, Section Eight. After the intermission, the leaders, including Miller, Luther Nyirenda, Alyson Hilligoss, Allison Zink, Caleb Moore and Denisha Herring, announced the raffle winners.

Dawn McKee, an Athens Public Health nurse, gave a speech about having compassion. An actual opioid patient, Shari Blackwell, gave a speech about overcoming and connecting with other survivors, and was followed by a representative of Sam Miller, the Appalachian regional representative for Senator Sherrod Brown who couldn’t make it to the event but wanted to speak to the audience. 

Dr. Carol Cunningham, an Ohio emergency medical services state medical doctor, gave a speech, and the event concluded with Jessica Littler from Serenity Grove.

Hilligoss, a senior studying nursing, was so excited to be one of the leaders for the event, and loved listening to all of the speeches. 

“This event is about helping those who truly need support and continuing the dialogue surrounding opioid abuse,” Hilligoss said.

Though the event lasted for about five hours, students and faculty enjoyed attending and experiencing a learning opportunity. 

Robyn Rice, an assistant professor of instruction for the school of nursing, came to show support for her colleagues and students.

“I think it’s important for our students’ education because they need to see that nursing extends  beyond bedsides, and the community is where patients come from,” Rice said. “So it broadens their knowledge of the issues that patients bring to them on a daily basis.”

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