March 15, 2016 —

I grew up with the Great Smoky Mountains in my backyard, in a place that continued to flourish with economic development but also retained a small town feel. Surrounded by farms and fields, we were allowed a certain amount of freedom as kids, with our parents maintaining a level of comfort in the safety of our neighborhoods. Everyone knew each other’s business, even though we were taught not to stick our noses where they didn’t belong. We blessed each other’s hearts and added our friends to prayer lists when they fell on bad times. As kids, there was just enough freedom to get away with more than we should, but enough fear that one of our friends would tell their parents, who would tell our parents. Still, there remained a certain amount of leeway with “kids will be kids” and “rite of passage” mentalities.  

I studied journalism at the University of Tennessee in the nearby city of Knoxville, with the dream of moving far away to a new exciting city. I was a staff writer for my college newspaper, spent a summer writing for an entertainment magazine in Dublin, Ireland, and then somehow ended up back in my home town (a blessing that was yet to be recognized). I landed my first full-time, grown-up writing gig at The Daily Times newspaper when I was fresh and green, with my nose barely out of the books. I was a police and court reporter, which shook up my 20-something naïve world. It was not as enthralling as a reporter covering crime in the bigger cities, but there was never a lack of stories to cover. 

As I spent many of my days in a courtroom, I listened to detailed stories of domestic violence, robberies, assaults, prostitution and other crimes, and I began to see a pattern. Many of those crimes were linked to one thing – substance abuse: a vehicular homicide charged to a man who was DUI and had struggled with alcoholism for years; a home invasion by a neighbor seeking pills; a violent assault between brothers after a night of alcohol and drug use. Even more eye-opening – I knew some of these folks. I went to high school with them; I knew their business; I blessed their hearts. I wondered how these people, who once seemed to have everything going right, could spiral so far out of control. With some time and experience, it became clearer to me that substance abuse knows no boundaries. It could affect any of us, or our children. It could and would affect people that were close to me, and even some of my family members and friends. 

Being on call day and night and listening to a police scanner in my sleep began to take a toll on me. After about five years, I moved on and began working in public relations at our local Blount Memorial Hospital. Two years into my job there, the hospital received its first Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant, addressing prescription drug and over-the-counter medication abuse and underage drinking. As I wrote the press release for the grant award, images of defendants, victims, mothers, fathers, small children and old friends began flooding my memory. It became abundantly clear to me that I wanted and needed to be a part of this opportunity for change. 
As the manager of the DFC grant at the Blount Memorial Foundation, my passion continued to grow for substance abuse prevention. First and foremost, the youth that I’ve had the opportunity to work with have inspired me daily. So many of them have already experienced heartache and turmoil due to addiction, and they want to be a part of making a change. My colleagues also continued to inspire me with substance abuse stories of their own.

 As DFC manager, I was (and continue to be) in awe with our local law enforcement, district attorney general’s office and judiciary who truly understand that you can’t arrest your way out of this problem. I received the opportunity to work with amazing educators, who not only care about our youth’s education – they truly care about their well-being, and understand that health and safety are major contributors to their educational outcomes and future. I earned even more respect for the recovery court and treatment community, seeing their unfaltering belief in the possibility of anyone and everyone’s recovery, no matter the circumstance. I proudly worked side by side with pharmacists and medical professionals who have stood up as leaders in prevention. 

Now, as Community Outreach Coordinator for the Foundation, I am able to expand my work in the community, working with substance abuse prevention, but also working to prevent many of the behavioral health issues that go hand-in-hand with substance abuse – domestic violence, mental health and suicide, safety, teen pregnancy, etc. This work can be heavy and disheartening at times, but most of the time it’s inspiring, uplifting and leaves me full of hope, as I see the community coming together to make a difference.

Since I began working at the Foundation, I also met and married my amazing husband, a local police officer who understands my passion and shares my love of making our community a safer place to live. Eighteen months ago, this amazing little girl entered our lives – Rory Bay. She is a wise and spunky little soul – and has me and her daddy completely wrapped around her little finger. She’s easy-going, creative, witty and has a lot of sass. I’m completely and utterly in love with her, and with being her mother. 

And if I wasn’t passionate enough already, Rory has me bursting at the seams to move mountains. I want her to grow up in an even safer and healthier community than I did. I want to change the perceptions, break down barriers and create even better communication between parents. My job has given me the education and information to know better, and I want to make sure other parents know better. I’m excited that the Five Moms Blog may aid in this channel of communication. You never know if your child will be affected, so we must do everything we can to protect them and educate each other. Sometimes, sticking our nose into each other’s business is the best thing we can do for our kids.