January 18, 2017 is a day Deneen Ault will never forget.
“My daughter’s best friend overdosed in my home and I provided CPR and he did not make it,” Ault said.
At 19-years-old, he was the youngest person to die from a drug overdose in Cambria County last year. However, Ault says he was so much more than a statistic.
“Such a spirited kid. He was a college student, super intelligent. He was working two jobs. A very accomplished musician,” said Ault.
She and four other John B. Gunter Leadership Institute students formed O.P.T. OUT: the Overdose Prevention Team. They hope to fill the gaps when it comes to awareness, education and healing.
They created resource cards with hotline and treatment center information and trained about 1,000 local teachers on warnings signs to look out for in students.
“A student might be struggling with opioid addiction or maybe even coming from a home where drug addiction is present,” said Daniel Pyle, another O.P.T. OUT Team founder.
The team also launched the Parenting by Choice support group. It’s for relatives who have to raise children because their parents are either addicted to drugs, incarcerated or dead.
The group is working with Sandyvale Memorial Gardens to create a healing garden: a place to remember loved ones who have died.
“We wanted to find a place for people struggling with loss, not only from opioid addiction, but any loss, because every family experience loss in some way, shape or form,” Pyle said.
Pyle lost his cousin-in-law to an overdose.
“Really big hit to the family. Really sturggled with that for a long time and we’re still struggling with it,” Pyle said.
The team’s goal is to raise $50,000 to build the garden, with flowers, a bell tower and a fountain.
“People can just sit and reflect on where they’ve come, how far they’ve come.from. Maybe it’s a successful visit. It doesn’t have to be a memorial. It doesn’t have to be a cemetery. It’s just a place to heal,” Ault said.
The team is applying for grants and asking for donations. They’re also selling bricks for the memorial’s walkway to help raise money.
“We just want to help. We want to do something to make this problem better,” said Pyle.
Ault said it’s hard looking back on January 18th, knowing there may have been signs she didn’t see. That’s why she’s working to make sure others have somewhere to turn for information and support.
“Hopefully no one has to go through the same thing,” said Ault.
To learn more about O.P.T. OUT, check out the team’s Facebook page.
You can find out how to donate money to build the healing garden on the team’s website.