Home Local News Richmond County families participate in program to build communication, prevent drug use

Richmond County families participate in program to build communication, prevent drug use

Katy Haywood lets kids who were part of the Empowering Youth and Families Program pick out door prizes during an event on Aug. 25 at the Hive Recreation Center. See more photos below. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Several Richmond County families were part of the last cohort of a federally funded 4-H program aimed at strengthening communication and preventing drug use.

The Empowering Youth and Families Program started with 13 families — the most of any cohort — but dwindled to seven, according to Katy Haywood, Healthy Living Program associate for N.C. 4-H.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension has held the program in more than a dozen rural counties in North Carolina and Tennessee since 2017 through separate grants.

The other two cohorts for the recent round were from Burke and Halifax counties.

According to Haywood, the families went through 10 weekly sessions to learn about family building and communication skills.

“Communication is a big thing that we all think we know how to do, but we really don’t know how to do,” Haywood said, adding that the family’s have to sit down for a meal together and learn reflexive listening skills and emotion coaching.

“Really the goal is to make the family as strong as possible so that when the kids are exposed to drugs or anything bad … the family is prepared to talk about those things,” Haywood said. “It helps families have those hard conversations.”

Allison Howell and her family were part of that group.

Howell said she heard about the pilot program through 4-H and thought it “sounded interesting.”

“We learned how to be more communicative to our kids, listen to them and how to respond to their questions,” Howell said. They also learned about how drugs affect the brain and body of those who become addicted.

Howell said she’s had family members who have been addicted to substances.

“I think everybody’s had some family member … that’s either been addicted to alcohol or pain meds or something,” Howell said. “I think it’s touched everybody.”

A report earlier this year from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner showed that Richmond County had the highest fentanyl-involved death rate in the state.

Click here to read that story.

On Friday, the group hosted an event at the Hive Recreation Center to provide information to the community on what they had learned, including opioid prevention. The families also secured more than $500 worth of donations from local businesses.

Several organizations from the community were invited to set up tables, including New Horizons Life and Family Services, the local and state N.C. Cooperative Extension and 4-H offices, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Pee Dee Pregnancy Resource Center, the Drug Endangered Family Task Force and ROC INC (Reaching Our Children In Need of Choice).

Haywood said that normally, the families who are part of the group go their separate ways after the program.


“But these families have already planned future community events together,” Haywood said.

A Richmond County native, Haywood said she was excited to run the program here.

Haywood added that she went to her program assistants for advice.

“For the first couple of weeks, our kids … had a really hard time connecting to each other,” Haywood said, adding the caregivers were the same way. But by the end of the program, they were a tight-knit group..

“Coming from the state level and seeing everybody’s cohorts and seeing how successful those cohorts are, I was a little concerned doing it in Richmond County because I felt like I couldn’t give as much time and energy and effort,” Haywood said.

But, the local group was “so strong and connected” and have gone “above and beyond what was expected.”

“It was so cool to watch families interact with everybody across the state, and they were super-welcoming,” Haywood said. “It’s a moment for me that was proud to be a part of Richmond County.”

Haywood said the program “built a community of people that are ready to work for the community.”

While the federal funding has ended, the program will continue in Richmond County as it was one of three recently selected by the Drug Endangered Family Task Force and approved by the Board of Commissioners to receive funding from the opioid settlement.

Click here to read more.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.