By Erica Quinones
Around 150 people gathered early in the morning on Aug. 24 for the Second Annual Kent Goes Purple Color Run 5K. Lining up for registration at 7:30 a.m. and at the starting line by 8:30 a.m., participants prepared to run or walk the half-marathon.
Runners made their way southeast on Quaker Neck Road, turning northwest onto John Hanson Road, then reversing back to Wilmer Park at the halfway mark.
The community members varied from children to adults, frequent runners and first-time participants, and both families and companies present.
One group of frequent runners was Learie Haynes, Julie Haynes, and Ashley Cornelius. While they enjoy running, having ran three half-marathons total this year, this was their first time at Kent Goes Purple’s Color Run.
“I liked all the enthusiasm from the people spraying the color, cheering, telling us we were doing a great job, and giving us the motivation to keep going,” Cornelius said.
However, while the Color Run is family-friendly fun — two of the youngest runners seen were about five years old and thrilled with the pink and blue paints — it carried a serious message.
Beside the cheering volunteers were sponsored signs decked in anti-drug messages. In Wilmer Park’s parking lot sat the Hope Trailer, a replica of a teenager’s room filled with different signs of drug abuse. At the heart of the Color Run is the core focus of Kent Goes Purple: opioid abuse prevention.
Kent Goes Purple is a program sponsored by the Chestertown Rotary Club and Chestertown Sheriff’s Office. Begun in 2018, this is the second year it has organized events like the Color Run to educate the Kent County community about opioid abuse awareness and prevention.
The program was inspired by Talbot Goes Purple, a similar group in Talbot County. Organizer Kirk Helfenbein said he saw how strongly the Talbot community turned out and decided that a Goes Purple program would fit in Kent County. Thus, he proposed its creation at a Rotary Club meeting and Kent Goes Purple was founded.
While they have many volunteers working Kent Goes Purple events like the Color Run, the Executive Committee that plans and designs the events consists of Helfenbein, Kent County Sheriff John Price, Rotary Club member Andrew Meehan, Lt. Dennis Hickman, Rotary Member Dr. Lisa Webb, and Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coordinator for Kent County Behavioral Health Annette Duckery. They meet at least once a week, nine months a year, planning everything from event conception to getting permits, ordering supplies, advertising, and fund-raising.
Meehan said, “if you are going to take on something like [opioid addiction], you have to do it right.”
One of the ways to do it right, according to Helfenbein, is through community participation.
“You can drive it down their throats as much as needed. But it doesn’t seem to work unless people get involved and get excited,” Helfenbein said.
That community involvement was evident at the Color Run, with many participants openly supporting the cause.
“Kent Goes Purple is another important way this community, including Washington College, comes together to care for our neighbors and friends,” WC President Kurt Landgraf said. “Addiction in every form, but especially opioid addiction has cut deeply into the wellbeing of this state and country. Anything we can do to make even a small difference, like this 5K, matters.”
Helfenbein, director of Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home, has directly seen the effects of drugs like fentanyl, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said is 100 times more potent than morphine. Helfenbein’s funeral home staff are now trained to look for fentanyl when on duty and travel with Narcan, a nasal spray form of naloxone which is used to treat opioid overdoses in emergencies.
The level of danger opioids like fentanyl pose is why Kent Goes Purple focuses primarily on prevention and reaching out to school-aged children.
“For years, law enforcement has declared war on drugs. We have tried to arrest our way out of the problem, and frankly, it’s not working,” Sheriff Price said.
He continued, saying that it is their duty to uphold the law and arrest offenders that sell or possess illicit drugs but that “there are a lot of people out here that are addicted and need help.”
“What we are trying to do is make enough awareness and provide the education through our schools with our young folks, so they don’t even go down that pathway,” Sheriff Price said.
This year’s educational outreach program is partially taking shape through the speaker Tony Hoffman, an Olympic athlete and recovered addict. He will give a series of talks to local seventh through twelfth graders on Sept. 29.
Kent Goes Purple Webmaster Lt. Hickman said he is interested in hearing Hoffman’s talk because of both the message and his own children.
“I have kids close to that age,” Lt. Hickman said. “Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people say that it is an old person speaking, and the kids do not really pay attention. Others say they get a lot from it. So, I am interested in hearing how it goes from the kids’ standpoint.”
Hoffman will also give a luncheon talk in Hynson Lounge for community leaders and business owners on how to combat the opioid epidemic.
Kent Goes Purple is also hosting their first Purple Jamboree. The Jamboree is planned for Sept. 14 in Worton Park and will feature family-friendly entertainment with resource tables, a speaker, and Narcan training.