GRANVILLE – Deb Dingus shared memories and lessons learned during her recent, 50-day, 400-plus mile walk across Licking County at the June 15 Granville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting.
The United Way executive director said her odyssey was inspired by having turned 50 last year, having “ended a five-year journey with breast cancer,” and because at the same time, the county was assessing its most pressing needs.
“It occurred to me God gave me the ability to walk and to talk,” she said.
Setting out on April 7, she spent the ensuing weeks hiking in the cold and heat, sleeping outdoors and getting rained on about 40 of the 50 days.
All the while, she was out meeting and talking with people; hearing their stories and getting a ground-level view of every one of the county’s 25 townships and the challenges facing each of those communities.
She told chamber members she spent a 22-degree night in Granville sleeping in the very high school commons where she spoke to the chamber. There, students spent the night talking and sharing stories with her. They left Dingus with the realization of what “a very impressive group of kids Granville has.”
“For two hours, we had a real world talk about issues,” she remembered. “There are some tremendous young leaders here, taking stands on issues which people are struggling with.”
She said early on in her journey, she was approached by a woman during a hard rain, who was wondering if Dingus was in trouble, perhaps even homeless.
The stranger said that she was formerly homeless, had struggled with heroin addiction and that her name was “Hope,” which Dingus took as an affirmation of her walk and its purpose.
Speaking in the same space where Superintendent Jeff Brown was scheduled to host a community drug forum just a few hours later, Dingus praised Brown and said she supported him in his efforts to combat student substance abuse.
Based on her experiences over the 50 days, she said, “One hundred percent, I can tell you the issue of drugs is the No. 1 issue in our county. It’s in every demographic, in every community.”
She said she heard seven stories from Granville residents who are themselves or know someone struggling with heroin addiction.
“One of the things I’m concerned about, is how early we’re starting our prevention efforts,” she said. “We’ve got to be very direct with elementary school students, telling them, ‘Don’t open that medicine cabinet…don’t take those pills.’”
The second greatest challenge facing Licking County – one that often goes hand-in-hand with addiction, she said – is the lack of access to mental health care for all ages.
An emerging issue is that of human trafficking. “In the last six months, there have been nine cases of human trafficking in Licking County…cases where a guardian or parent has sold a child or traded money for a young person’s sexual life. It’s going on right here in our community.”
She stressed the critical need for the county’s best and brightest to join and work together to tackle these challenges.
“Our community,” she said, “is only as strong as the support we give those who are the most fragile.”
Found in The Newark Advocate June 15, 2016