MANSFIELD - Members of Richland County's faith-based community and area law enforcement agencies in 2013 launched a nonprofit program aimed at helping people get treatment for drug addiction and other life-controlling issues.

The nonprofit group is still working to help people with addictions, one person at a time.

Sheriff J. Steve Sheldon said that during three decades in law enforcement he has witnessed many events that were alarming and disturbing, but none that come close to the current opiate epidemic.

Starfish Project of Richland County Inc. is an organization that raises money to send people to Teen Challenge, a faith-based rehabilitation.

The local grassroots organization, which has roughly half-a-dozen board members, has dealt with over 100 people with an addiction, trying to help them. Eight people are currently in treatment, Starfish board member Valerie Rust said this week.

Starfish board member and one of the group's founders, Richland County Sheriff's Sgt. Rich Eichinger, said 100 percent of the money raised will go to send people to treatment. In Ohio, Teen Challenge treatment facilities operate in Willard, Perry, Youngstown, Columbus and the Cincinnati area.

Teen Challenge's 13-month residential treatment program costs roughly from $500-$750 per person

Eichinger said in his line of work he sees families torn apart by a family member who is fighting an addiction. He said a lot of the thefts and burglaries can be reduced if individuals get the help they need.

He was on a call once with a person who was considering ending his life due to severe financial loss caused by a child with an addiction.

"All his money went to help the person who went to rehab but it wasn't working and the child was stealing from him," he said.

The group was formed in part as a response to "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which focused on the drug problem in Richland County in 2008.

Winfrey devoted an entire show to the county's heroin problem, interviewing a local family and a pregnant woman about their addictions. "Nightline" ran a shorter segment the same day.

Local officials said the pieces sensationalized the county's drug problem and failed to show what Richland County is doing about it. Reporter Lisa Ling claimed there were hundreds, if not thousands, of addicts in Richland County, said Pastor Thomas Snyder, formerly of Shelby, who was a founding member. Chuck Kochis, a retired Richland County sheriff's deputy, also was a founding member.

Eichinger said he didn't know about the Starfish Project until he met with Dane Howard, Huron County sheriff, who was one of the original founders in his county.

 

Starfish exists to get people to Teen Challenge, founded by Rev. Dave Wilkerson, who wrote the book, The Cross and the Switchblade. Wilkerson created Teen Challenge for the drug addicts in Harlem. It's now nationwide and worldwide.

Valerie Rust who with her husband Stan, also a board member, said people come to the nonprofit group for help from a variety of backgrounds. There is an informational kiosk in the Richland County Jail along with several city and county probation officers who contact the group if they believe they have a good candidate. She also receives requests for help through Facebook.

Valerie Rust said not everyone opts to go to treatment. "Some go on to prison," she said.

Rust said she will retire June 30 from the Richland County Child Enforcement Agency where she is assistant director of child support, and plans to do this work full time.

"I need to do this," she said. Valerie Rust plans to partner with churches to reach out to people with addiction on the street downtown Mansfield.

"We get a lot of cold calls from people in crisis, or their parents will call a lot of times or a family member," she said. "The hardest thing to do is find a detox bed. They have to be detoxed for three days to a week depending on what their drug of choice is and detox beds are always at a premium. We've been really blessed Catalyst has partnered with us for two years. They have been amazing. They have given us resources that we wouldn't have had."

Among the group's success stories is a local man currently in the Bronx who is attending the original Teen Challenge ministerial school after he completed treatment.

"He's doing really well," Valerie Rust said.

The Starfish Project helps people of all ages, primarily from Richland County but they help anyone.

Valerie Rust said the group's goal is to grow the organization in the local community so they can partner with other agencies that have help for people who are addicted so they are not duplicating efforts and instead working in tandem.

Donations can be made to Starfish Project by contacting Stan Rust at 419-512-6878 or go to the website starfishrichland.org

 

 

By: Lou Whitmire, Reporter

 

Donate to Starfish

Starfish Project of Richland County, Inc. is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.  Any amount donated is tax-deductible according to the IRS rules governing 501(c)(3) organizations. Every dollar not spent on our minimal administrative costs goes directly to the life-changing treatment of a member of our community.  Donate today by mailing a tax-deductible donation to:

Starfish Project of Richland County, Inc.

9 North Mulberry Street

Mansfield, Ohio 44902

or donate via Paypal:

If you donate via Paypal, please consider adding a few extra dollars to cover Paypal's fees.  Thank you!

Contact Starfish

Starfish Project of Richland County, Inc.

Valerie Rust (Intake Coordinator):

419.512.6877

Stan Rust (Intake Team member):

419.512.6878

Email: info@starfishrichland.org

(Mailing Address Only)

9 North Mulberry Street

Mansfield, Ohio  44902