Group helps addicted reconnect with community

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 22, 2021

CHESAPEAKE — As Lawrence County Municipal Court judge, Donald Capper oversees a lot of drug-related cases.

Around three years ago, the judge and area pastors talked about the substance abuse issues that plague the area and what could be done to get the community’s involvement to help those in need.

“It’s too big an issue for just law enforcement and the judiciary,” Capper said.

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And that was the beginning of Tri-State Family Connections. He first started holding seminars on it in 2019.

“It’s a faith-based group that is really just the community getting involved in the substance use crisis,” he explained. “Our mission is to help, educate, mentor, support those that want to fight addiction in our community and to educate our community about it,” Capper said.

Tri-State Family Connections has volunteers at the courthouse called the Court Response Team, which Capper said supports the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Quick Response Team, which has a goal of reaching out to people who have overdosed to try to get them into a treatment facility.

“They wanted to add a faith-based component to it,” he said.

Capper wanted a Court Response Team because while the Quick Response Team has to go and search for people while the court is filled with people who might need their help.

“Every court session, there are a dozen people that are in the middle of a substance use problem,” Capper said. “The Court Response Team will try to befriend them and just support them. We want them to understand that the community really does care what happens to them and we want to help you be successful. I think just that message can be enough sometimes to help people be successful.”

Capper said that one of the best explanations for addiction was that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection.

“That people who have substance use issues typically have a connection missing, so we want to supply that connection,” Capper said. “They are self-medicating an issue in their life, it can be mental health issues, it can be physical issues. Everybody has a reason why they landed where they did and unraveling that is it individualized too.”

On a recent Friday, two members of Tri-State Family Connections’ Court Response Team were sitting in the lobby of the Lawrence County Courthouse waiting.

One was Arlan Elkins, the other was Margaret Mays.

Elkins came to be a volunteer because he had retired and was looking to get involved in something that would help the community.

“I just happened to be speaking to Judge Capper one day and he was talking about this group and invited me to some sessions they were having at Ohio University in Proctorville,” Elkins said. “I attended those and I’ve been here ever since.”

He, a member of Lewis Memorial Baptist Church on West Pea Ridge in Huntington, said trying to help people has its ups and downs.

“We’ve had some that have been very successful and others that weren’t,” he said. “Margaret and I were just talking. Sometimes, we leave defeated and we don’t know what else we can do, because there is more that needs to be done. We’ve just got a lot to learn.”

He said that, sometimes, their impact isn’t immediate.

“I personally have had people that would come into the court and I would speak with them and they were kind of stand-offish. But they would take our information and then later on, we would build a relationship,” Elkins said. “To me, that is what this group is about, mentoring people. Personally, I think that is what God commands us to do, is to love one another. And that is just what we try to do.”

Mays, a member of Finley Chapel on Big Patty in Proctorville, joined the Court Response Team after attending a meeting with Judge Capper.

“It was just something that told me I need to do something to help people,” she said. “After the meeting, I felt like this was a calling for me and God has placed me in this position because I feel like that these people need somebody to minister to them and they need to know that we love them and care for them.”

She said that she feels many people are missing a connection and says that she has had two cases that she considers her biggest successes. In one case, the woman was pregnant and didn’t want the baby.

“The happy ending is that she had this healthy, drug-free baby boy in December and she went back to California where she is from,” Mays said. “And we are still in contact with each other. And I met her, right here in the lobby. She said ‘You are just like family to me.’”

Capper said the program is starting in his court and will be expanded to other courts in the county with the help of a grant from the Pallottine Foundation, which is connected with St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. Kim Gabbard, of Impact Church, was hired to be the coordinator of Tri-State Family Connections.

“She’s doing a great job,” he said.

Capper said they will also be doing seminars that will be open to the public.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the brain science and what happens when someone gets addicted,” he said. The seminars will talk about what treatment programs are available and which are most effective as well as helping families know what to do when someone they love has become addicted without enabling their addiction.

The reason that it is called Tri-State Family Connections because many people in Capper’s court are from Kentucky and West Virginia and he hopes to expand the program beyond Lawrence County.

“We eventually want to take this throughout the Tri-State and try to really affect the epidemic problem,” Capper said. “I think people know it’s an epidemic, but I don’t think they really know the numbers. It is really affecting every family, everyone has someone in the family or one of their friends who have this issue.”

Tri-State Family Connections is a part of River Hills Prevention Connection. For more information, call 606-615-3463 or go to