Getting help for drug addiction often takes encountering the message of recovery multiple times. Thanks to efforts by Lorain County Community College students, addicts and their families may soon see billboards encouraging them to reach out for assistance.
Students in Daniel J. Cleary’s College Composition I class teamed up with students in Dennis Ryan’s Typography class to create six impactful billboards that will soon be placed around Lorain County as part of a PSA program that addresses the heroin epidemic in northeast Ohio.
“I didn’t expect to do this kind of project in my English class,” said Kayla Saunders, 19, of Elyria. “It would feel great if even one person sees a billboard and gets help. We may even be able to save a life.”
The project was a collaborative effort that began when Cleary, associate professor of English and LCCC’s writing program director, experienced the heroin epidemic through his students.
“A former student died of an overdose, and soon after another student had to drop out of my class in order to address his addiction,” Cleary recalled. The news of his former student’s death filled Cleary with such disbelief that he called the county coroner’s office to confirm the tragedy.
“The coroner’s office told me how widespread heroin deaths are in Ohio. The statistics are shocking,” Cleary said.
In 2013, Lorain County experienced a record number of 33 heroin-related deaths. So far in 2014, 21 deaths have been ruled heroin-related by the Lorain County Coroner. The coroner’s office attributed the lower number of deaths to first responders’ use of Narcan, an opioid antagonist used to stop a heroin overdose. First responders have administered Narcan at least 42 times this year, according to the coroner’s office.
Cleary was already incorporating a unit he designed on addiction and recovery into his English courses, but seeing his own students struggle with the disease prompted him to do more. Cleary began searching for a way to share information about the heroin epidemic on a wider level.
He shared his concerns with LCCC Provost/Vice President for Academic Learner Services Marcia Ballinger, who suggested a public service announcement campaign using area billboards owned by Lamar Advertising, who agreed to donate space on two billboards in Elyria and Lorain.
“Through the efforts of our talented students and great local partners, LCCC is able to provide meaningful billboards to address this important topic,” Ballinger said.
To prepare his students to create the PSAs, Cleary revamped his curriculum for his English 161 class to include the book “White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin,” a memoir by Case Western Reserve University’s Michael W. Clune, an English professor and recovering heroin addict. Clune visited Cleary’s class to discuss the book and to answer questions from the students. In Clune’s book, the author explains how a billboard planted the seed that would eventually lead him to attempting sobriety for the first time.
Cleary’s students also partnered with professor Ryan’s art students.
Working in small groups, Cleary’s students researched the persuasive rhetorical strategies that make up effective public service announcements, as well as heroin addiction and recovery. After this period of research, they brought their billboard ideas to the graphic design students.
“Working with the graphic design students was interesting because we had a lot of ideas that didn’t pan out visually,” explained Darrian Meadows, 17, of Elyria, who is a student in Lorain County Early College High School.
By working with the design students, Meadows and his classmates were able to create a billboard image that includes two hands reaching out to one another, along with the message, “One helping hand can save a life.”
“One thing we learned in our research is that addicts often feel lonely and isolated. Our design shows that help is out there and that people care,” Meadows explained.
In addition to learning about heroin and recovery, the students learned a lot about collaboration.
“We had to focus on what the group wanted, but we also had to use design elements that we understand as designers,” explained Megan Meier, 20, of Lorain. Meier, a student in Ryan’s arts course, said, “Communication was a challenge because we had to get their ideas from their heads in ways that make sense visually.”
Meier partnered with students from the English class to create a powerful billboard image that shows a young child with the words, “Heroin killed my mommy.”
For many students, working on the billboard project helped them to better understand their friends or family members who are struggling with addiction.
“I have known a lot of people who have been addicted to drugs. This project gave me a new perspective,” Saunders said. “Before this project, I didn’t understand why they did these things. I now understand that it’s a disease.”
Each billboard contains contact information for LCADA, so addicts and those close to them can get the help they need, Cleary said.
Beginning in mid-January, two billboards in Elyria and Lorain will rotate the PSA messages.
Those struggling with drug use can contact Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services (LCADA) at (440) 989-4900 or learn more at www.lcada.com.