For Nicholas County Drug Court graduates, ‘the greatest gift you gave yourselves was sobriety’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. – “I started using when I was in junior high, so I have a really long history of drug use – and losses and tragedies – as a lot of us here do. I’ve lost cars, homes, all my belongings time-and-time-again. Friendships, relationships, my sanity, and, most importantly, myself.”

That’s what Amanda Blankenship told graduates, family, friends, and well-wishers during Nicholas County’s Adult Drug Court Graduation ceremony on Wednesday. Blankenship, herself a graduate of the Drug Court program, was on-hand to wish the current graduates well, and to offer some hard-earned wisdom.

“When Drug Court accepted me, I’d been living in a building in somebody’s backyard,” Blankenship said. “I put myself and my son in a really bad situation. […] While I was in the program I got my G.E.D., I got primary custody of my son, […] and I started my job as a housekeeper.”

Blankenship noted that while she initially viewed her housekeeping job as being a dead end, she is now in a management position, overseeing a hotel property. 

“I have a nice car I never thought I would have,” Blankenship continued. “I don’t have to worry about where my next high or my next dollar is going to come from. I say that not to brag about my accomplishments, but to show you guys there’s life after this. There are small things you can do that don’t seem like anything, that turn into great things. Just one step at a time.”

“I’m really proud of you guys,” Blankenship added. “I know what it took for you to get here. And if you made it this far, you got it – you’ve got what it takes to make it all the way.”

Blankenship advised the graduates to maintain their supportive relationships with not only each other, but also the Drug Court staff, noting, “I still call them to this day with my problems, and there’s never a time that they’re not there for me.”

Since its inception in July of 2016, and as of the conclusion of Wednesday’s ceremony, Nicholas County’s Adult Drug Court program has graduated 82 participants. There are currently 48 individuals enrolled in the program, with another 70 in-process for enrollment. The program is facilitated through Nicholas County’s Day Report Center, under the supervision of Director Gary Jarrell.

“These graduates, I’m very proud of them,” Nicholas County Circuit Judge Steve Callahan told those in attendance. “I know them all because I see them every week, and these people have different lives now. That’s an example of several different things.”

“First, it’s an example of the hard work that these people put in to get through this program,” Callahan continued. “It’s not easy, but they put in the work and did all the right things. It’s also an example that this court and this judicial system is doing something about the drug problem in this county.”

“And lastly,” Callahan added, “It’s an example that this program is working, and it can work. These people are proof-positive of it.”

Before the ceremony was concluded, Sherri Cook, commonly referred to as the “heart and soul of the Drug Court team” by her colleagues, told the graduates, “Every time we have graduation, we give our graduates a keychain with sayings on them. And all these words were kind of jumbled together in my head last night when I was writing this, so here we go.”

“In the beginning you knew it wouldn’t be easy, but absolutely worth it,” Cook read to the graduates. “You had to learn to let go of the past for you to reach what was in front of you. You began to see that every day may not be good, but you found good in every day. You realized you got sober to save yourself. And when you did, you found yourself. Still today you continue to not look back because you’re going forward. Always remember that if having one is not enough, have none – because the greatest gift that you gave yourselves was sobriety.”

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