Established after the 2016 presidential election, The One America Movement’s (One America) mission is to build bridges and solve problems by bringing Americans together across racial, religious, political, and geographic divides in order to address pressing social problems like poverty, opioids, racial tension, and more.
Founded by faith and community leaders, and launched with the support of Repair the World, One America is rooted in the Washington, D.C., area, and works with experts in neuroscience, social science, and conflict-resolution to design their work.
One America One West Virginia was also recently launched. One America Director Andrew Hanauer brought the initiative to the Panhandle earlier this year as a series of listening sessions—as a way to assist in working to solve the opioid crisis.
“Overall, our goal is to address the divisiveness in our society—to get people to not just talk to each other again, but to actually work together,” he pointed out. “We see such divides as links to things like the opiate epidemic. We want to try to build stronger communities where people work together to fight these issues—regardless of their differences.”
In their efforts to grow One America across the country in the last year, Hanauer and his staff began to track the addiction epidemic, and knew they had to develop some type of related initiative within their greater mission. Since West Virginia is not only close by, but has been hard hit by the crisis, it made sense to reach out.
“What strikes us about the opioid epidemic is that it’s really rooted in isolation—families don’t feel able to talk to their neighbors or friends or community about what’s happening to their son or daughter,” said Hanauer. “We saw that, without community, without building bridges, this epidemic is never going to be successfully treated no matter what we do.”
At the same time, Hanauer knew that people, especially within the D.C. area, wanted to bridge geographic divides—wanted to get out and meet people in other places. “So, we tried to come up with an idea around how to bring people together across those divides and also build local community at the same time. The Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia was the logical choice.”
Anxious to Mobilize
Hanauer’s first point of contact was Joel Rainey, lead pastor at Shepherdstown’s Covenant Church. “We just had a conversation and he told me more about what his church was doing to fight opioids, and he essentially helped to form the listening group,” he explained.
With Rainey’s help, as well as Brian Hotaling, pastor at Charles Town Baptist Church, whom Rainey recruited, Hanauer was able to organize the first of two listening sessions in Jefferson County.
“We brought together local police, first responders, people affected by addiction, medical professionals, religious leaders, and groups and individuals from the community who are working every day to address and confront the epidemic,” Hanauer said. “Our first goal was to literally come and listen, and then say: here’s what we do; would it be something of value to this community?”
The meetings were a success. All agreed that the Panhandle could certainly use some assistance in establishing what could be considered some structure, organization, and resources to help bring the various people and groups within the area together in the fight against opioids.
“Andrew and I met through a mutual colleague at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in D.C.,” said Rainey. “We spoke initially by phone, and a couple of weeks later, we hosted him in Shepherdstown. He was able to hear about the desperate situation our area finds itself in with regard to the opioid crisis, and I was able to hear about the great work that One America has already done in other cities.”
Rainey says he’s already conducted too many funerals because of this crisis, and he’s anxious to mobilize members of his church who have lost family members to heroin, as well as church members with the expertise needed in various fields to help give the movement more strength.
“We live in a world where the local and the global have been merged for some time already through technology, inexpensive travel, and unprecedented migration, so I see no reason why, given our proximity to a global city like Washington, friends and colleagues from that area couldn’t leverage their skills and passions to help an area that is so close.”
From the meetings, Hanauer sees three areas of need moving forward. “First, a consensus that there needs to be a full-time coordinator—ideally a local person that knows the community. Second, we need to do something for the kids—many of them who have families falling apart because of the crisis—to educate them so they can proactively work with us. And third, the need for resources for people who are fighting opioids right now—who need transportation for access to jobs, detox centers, etc. Overall, I think there’s an idea that the more we’re in public—outward facing—the more likely we are to reach people … so they can play a productive role in all of this.”
To that end, the One America team is currently raising funds to pay for the coordinator and pay for a certain amount of programming—whether it’s community meals or transporting, or small grants to other groups that need money similarly. “We’re all working together on that—churches, synagogues, One America itself is helping—we’re all pitching in trying to make it happen,” assured Hanauer.
Creating a Platform
For Hotaling, like so many in the Panhandle, the endeavor hits close to home.
“As long as I have been in ministry, I know that the key to any real change is that it’s always built on relationships, person-to-person connections—being involved in one another’s lives. As the parent of one who struggles with addiction, I know that love and grace have gone a lot further in her recovery than any lectures, or scolding, or telling people to stop doing what they are doing.”
Hotaling welcomes the support from outside organizations. “It’s great to have the support and resources from agencies outside of our area. It means that people are paying attention, people are listening, and willing to respond. The name of the organization—One America—is telling. We are all connected; we are all neighbors.”
He also recognizes that the epidemic has grown beyond the ability of law enforcement. “As good as our local police are, the problem is bigger than law enforcement. It’s a health problem, a social problem, a community problem. And we need a bit of expertise to address the problem systematically.”
Rainey also reached out to Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. David Didden, who attended the first meeting and was impressed with what he saw.
“I think it’s got great potential on multiple levels,” he said. “We see significant disparities when we look at health outcomes in urban versus rural populations. My hope is that we’ll be able to form these relationships with folks in the Washington/Baltimore area who have an interest in reaching into rural America to effect some positive change, but also to create a platform for dialogues.”
Overall, Didden seeks to inject the spirit of harm reduction into any new initiatives, and is inspired by One America’s productive enthusiasm. “They’re very motivated, organized, and enthusiastic. They’re not trying to dictate a particular course of action that they recommend; they’re trying to help us fix things and they’re really interested in the community’s concerns. They want to partner with us, provide resources, and get to work.”
Hanauer is equally inspired to have Didden on board. “He was immediately interested and incredibly helpful in explaining the crisis. He argued very much the value of building communities as a way to fight opioids, and that was important for us, coming from a medical expert. We’re very excited to partner with him”
Moving forward, One America’s focus is the Eastern Panhandle. If they’re successful here, Hanauer said they’d consider replicating the model in other places around the state.
They also hope to begin the search for the coordinator position by May or June, so the endeavor can grow legs and establish itself in the region this summer. “We’re focused on being hyper-local,” added Hanauer. “It’s our hope that our coordinator will be someone the community can reach out to.”
In the immediate future, the “One America West Virginia Kick-Off” launch event will take place in Martinsburg (WV) on May 6, from 3-6pm, at St. John’s Lutheran Church (101 W. Martin St.). Partnering with Martinsburg’s The Hope Dealer Project, the event is meant to build relationships and establish productive connections, share a meal, and discuss the heroin epidemic. Read all about it and buy tickets right here.Mike Chalmers