When Barbara Senst asked 20 Springfield Township cheerleaders if they knew someone suffering from substance abuse, all but three raised their hands.
When Barbara Senst, one of the co-founders of a group that formed four years ago to help fight opioid addiction in Springfield Township, had a recent chance to talk to 20 township high school cheerleaders, she asked if anyone knew someone who had problems with substance abuse. All but three cheerleaders raised their hands, she said.
And now, on behalf of the Springfield Township Opioid Action Committee (“StoAc”), Stenst is asking that township commissioners step up and help do something about that.
At the February Workshop meeting last Monday night, Senst and three Springfield High School students who are also members of the group asked the township’s board of commissioners to pass a resolution officially announcing an annual township “No Stigma/No Shame” Day starting this year.
At the meeting, Senst noted that “substance use happens here in this township all the time….Now is the time for the whole community to take ownership of this problem.” She said she envisions a township-sponsored forum on substance abuse disorder and mental health issues that would include taking a No Shame pledge, and awarding honors for best decal design and best short video on the topic. She also suggested Narcan training and give-aways, and a formal declaration of an annual No Stigma No Shame Day. Senst hopes coincide with another such day now scheduled at the High School for April 19.
The Halligan family is lending their support for StoAc through their Shane’s Kindness Foundation. District Judge Katherine McGill also strongly supports StoAc’s work and the idea of an annual township No Stigma/No Shame Day.
After hearing from the StoAc students and Senst, the commissioners agreed to discuss passing a No Stigma/No Shame Day resolution and delegated Township Manager Mike Taylor to work with StoAc to organize a forum for it.
When asked by Commissioner Jim Lee whether the students felt they were making a difference in the high school, Celia Wright, a senior at Springfield Township High School, said “Definitely, yes. I didn’t know anything about drugs or overdose. That’s why I joined the StoAc Students Club. Now that we’ve established ourselves in the school, a lot more people have come up to me and asked me tons of questions about it. They are truly interested. So, being a part of the school has really made a difference.”
Mollie Young, also a senior at the high school, agreed.
“I’ve noticed a lot more people asking questions this school year,” she said. “They just have a lot of questions, and now they have us to answer them. That’s really important.”
Julia Maxwell, Commissioner Mike Maxwell’s daughter and a sophomore at the high school, said “we started out as a book group but we all wanted to do more. I’m very proud of my involvement in StoAC Students because I’m making a difference.”
In 2019, one year after the death of their son from a drug overdose, Barbara and Bob Senst, along with neighbors Shannon and John Roberts, started StoAc to help families combat opioid addiction.
With the help of Commissioner Eddie Graham, the committee achieved nonprofit status and has grown into a small group of committed township residents. Many of StoAc’s members have lost a child to drug overdose or know someone who suffered that tragedy.
The group started by hosting Narcan give-aways at Wyndmoor Fire Department events and at Township Police Prescription Drug take-back programs. They still make their own Narcan kits – each one includes Narcan provided by Montgomery County, a StoAc pamphlet, and information about where to get help.
During COVID, StoAc held a drive-through Narcan kit give-away event at the Township Recreation Center, handing out more than 50 kits. According to Senst, many were distributed to grandparents.
They’re also getting help from pizza shops.
“Pizza store owners are very supportive of StoAc’s efforts, Senst says, “because they see a lot and they have some good ideas about spreading the word.”
In recent years, StoAc expanded its focus to all forms of substance use and related mental health issues. The current co-chairs are Senst and Sue Crathern. Two township police officers and one township teacher are also members.
“Getting into the schools was difficult,” Senst says. COVID delayed their ambitious plans of involving both the township’s middle school and high school in 2020, but they’ve made up for lost time by teaching in high school health classes and having a presence at School Nights in the 2020-2021 school year. StoAc culminated their activities with a “Shattering the Myth” event at the high school in November 2021.
In 2022, StoAc held an in-school eight-session book group on “Hey Kiddo,” a graphic memoir by Jarrett Krosoczka, about growing up with a drug-addicted mother, a missing father, and two opinionated grandparents. The students in the book group did not want to stop working on the issue of substance use so they started a StoAc students group at the high school that is now in its first year as an official high school club. Currently, the club has about ten members – five seniors, two sophomores, and three freshmen.
Now that the high school program is up and running, Barbara Senst said she hopes that her meeting with middle school Principal Zachary Fuller on Feb. 10 opens the door to starting a teaching program there. StoAc’s plan is to repeat what they did at Springfield Township High School, only geared towards middle school aged children.
Township residents can obtain audio recordings of past Board Workshop meetings by contacting Township Manager, Michael Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can access all Board Business Meeting Agendas, Minutes, and recordings on the Springfield Township website, www.Springfieldmontco.org