— Area’s newest grass-roots effort helps addicts and the ones who love them.

Born in 2016 to bring hope, strength, and healing to addicts and family members struggling with addiction in the Panhandle, The Hope Dealer Project consists of four Martinsburg (WV) women who decided they had to get involved after fighting addiction with their own loved ones for over eight years.

Their mantra is simple: There’s a New Dealer in Town—The Hope Dealer Project. And they mean it. Lisa Melcher, Tina Stride, Tara Diggs, and Kristie Plotner have all dealt with addiction through loved ones. They understand the sadness and helplessness one feels when addiction tears its way through both an individual and a family. So they developed a resource and support network that has generated substantial traction locally, and productive attention nationally.

Together, they’ve decided to fix the things they can no longer accept. The non-profit endeavor aims to help addicts and the people who care about them navigate the often-complicated landscape of recovery in order to help people turn their lives around, and not just survive, but thrive along a new path forward. Additionally, a mission-within-the-mission is to let folks struggling within the epidemic know they’re never alone.

The women know from experience that one of the greatest catalysts to the downward spiral that is addiction, for everyone involved, is the feeling that a person (or persons) is utterly alone—that nothing can be done. Their first objective is to immediately put that notion to rest.

Then, they get busy connecting everyone involved with recovery resources, communication and facilitation with detox centers and rehabs, hospitals, insurance, transportation if needed, as well as the architecture of resources available to continue post-treatment life skills and therapy—so an addict (and his/her loved ones) can successfully transition to the next phase of their lives.

The Hope Dealer team even stays in contact with their clients in order to provide ongoing encouragement and support. It’s about as full-service a mission as you’re going to see within the addiction epidemic—and it’s right here in the Panhandle. (It starts with a phone call or an email—bottom of this piece.)

“What people need to understand, however, is that they will have to do the work and push through the tough times and complete the programs,” said Stride.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Melcher, Stride, and Diggs to discuss how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time, and how much farther they plan on going. “We are working with as many local organizations as possible to ensure that our efforts are concrete and helpful to as many people as possible. Some folks have no one to turn to—and we say: ‘Now you do!’ But again, we can do everything to get a person off the street, away from drugs, and into a program, but they have to want to succeed. It sounds like the same-old song—but it’s the truth.”

The Project plans to open transitional housing soon to serve those in need after the detox and rehab stages—facilitating a program for continued sobriety and lifelong skills. Such classes and programs will consist of regular N/A meetings, spiritual counseling, community service, and even music and art therapy.

“When we begin the terrible journey of turmoil and horrific consequences that the life of an addict involves, we’re forced to learn and try to understand,” added Melcher. “It’s only then that we’re able to empathize with the addict while making sure that we take the time to ‘save ourselves.’”

The team recently completed a trip to Kentucky, where they learned about a re-entry council program that is connected to a local jail. The council wants to help its inmates and addicts get their GEDs, connect them with sobriety programs upon release, and walk them through the steps of sober living.

“They called us to see if we could help them with getting addicts to reach out—since we’ve seen a lot of success up here,” said Stride, whose son is a recovering heroin addict now looking to get involved in the Project. “We walked away thinking: they need our help, and we need theirs! We need that type of program in Martinsburg. We can get the people; we just need to build the bridges within the larger system.”

Stride explained that representatives from Kentucky are planning three visits to the Mountain State next year, including Martinsburg, to explore the possibilities of developing a similar system here.

(L to R) – back row: Tara Diggs, Kristie Plotner, Tina Stride, and Lisa Melcher (front/center)

Navigating the System

The women are also currently working to get into local schools—potentially using workbooks and actually discussing drug awareness with young people. “Overall, we want to pull every resource we have here locally; there are so many different groups,” Stride pointed out. “But everyone wants to do it by themselves. We’ve got to bring everyone together in one room and say, I can do this part, you do this part. We can help with that.”

Melcher, who recently lost her daughter to an overdose, noted, “Families should also realize, when your loved one is in recovery, you should be too. They’ve got to learn how to live with them and work with them when they come home clean. We run a Nar-Anon meeting every Sunday. As bad as this town is with drugs, that room should be overflowing. There’s maybe five to ten people that attend.”

Ultimately, The Hope Dealer Project helps addicts with almost every aspect of the recovery process. “Our original focus, even though we’ve evolved in nearly two years, is to help these people out, and to allow that mother out there a good night’s sleep, knowing her child is in the right place, getting the help he/she needs,” said Diggs—who struggled with an addicted partner for six years before learning to … let go and let God. “Something that stuck with me and eventually helped me through this was the three Cs: You didn’t Cause it; you can’t Cure it; and you can’t Control it.”

Melcher, Stride, and Diggs all met at local Nar-Anon meetings (12-step meetings for families and friends of addicts). Plotner joined the group more recently. They’d all learned so much going through their own personal experiences that they started talking about what was truly needed in this area to combat the epidemic.

“So many people don’t know how to navigate the system—the entire recovery process from A-Z,” said Stride. “It’s a huge problem for these people and their families, and often big enough to stop them in their tracks. Bottom line: if someone truly wants it, the Hope Dealers will absolutely get them into a facility, bring them into the network upon return, and help them return to a normal life.”

All four women do this for free at the moment. The Project currently operates purely off of donations. They are exploring sponsorships and other fundraising opportunities. Marketing and awareness and community outreach is mainly done through social media and the press. The Hope Dealers garnered international recognition with a role in The New Yorker’s piece—The Addicts Next Door—which came out in June (2017). Since then, they’ve done a spot for CBS television, countless radio interviews, and several print stories.

“Doors just keep opening,” said Melcher. “We didn’t know it would grow like this, but now that people see how organized we are, and how hard we work to help people through this, word is spreading. We’d like to have Hope Dealers all over the country.”

Diggs echoed Melcher: “Our clients become part of this family.” Stride added, “They trust us; they see that we won’t take no for an answer. We will get them where they need to go. We’ll do the paperwork, make the phone calls and connections. We will get them in recovery and help them turn their life around if they want it.”

Looking ahead: The Hope Dealer Project will host its second-annual Community United & Recovery Event—planned for May 2018 (follow their Facebook page for details). The event will comprise information and representatives from detox centers, rehab facilities, faith-based programs, Celebrate Recovery, and more (both locally and coming in from VA, MD, and even FL). They’re also hoping to be able to offer scholarships to rehab centers. They’re shooting for a location in downtown Martinsburg—accessible to as many people as possible within the Panhandle.

— For more information and/or to donate, click here. To contact the Project directly, email lisa@thehopedealerproject.org or call 844-383-4673.

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