Henry’s Fund, Cornerstone team up for Saturday walk to combat addiction
By Steve Wildsmith | Stevew@Thedailytimes.Com
Once again, a teenage boy’s haunting eyes, sad smile and tragic story brought out the best of area residents on Saturday.
Dozens of people came out for the Cornerstone of Recovery Alumni Association’s 5K walk/run at Springbrook Park, and despite the drizzling rain by event’s end, it was clearly a success.
More than 200 people turned out in 2012 to participate; those numbers seemed to hold steady this year, judging by the amount of people filing in and out of the Springbrook gym, including a contingent from Lanier Elementary. The walk was a benefit for Henry’s Fund, the nonprofit organization established in the name of Henry Granju, who died in 2010 from injuries and trauma sustained in an assault and subsequent overdose. The son of noted local blogger Katie Allison Granju and City of Knoxville executive Chris Granju, Henry struggled in his adolescence with addiction.
In addition to fighting for details on his final hours and justice regarding the circumstances that led to his death, his family decided to establish Henry’s Fund, designed to help young people in similar situations receive the treatment that might prevent them from going down a similar path as Henry.
They’ve worked hard to build Henry’s Fund into an organization working to end teen and young adult drug addiction through treatment funding, education, support and advocacy. They have their work cut out for them, because addiction is a disease that preys on the young just as viciously as it does older adults.
Reading recent statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, I couldn’t help but notice the irony. When it comes to hard drugs, the numbers have been declining in recent years. The percentage of high school seniors using cocaine dropped from 5.2 to 2.7 percent between 2007 and 2012; ecstasy from 5.3 to 3.8 percent between 2011 and 2012; the number of seniors who admit to getting drunk in the past month dropped 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012; and rates of use for meth, heroin and other drugs is holding steady.
But almost 23 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the past month — nearly a 10 percent increase from the year before. And while societal views on marijuana use is changing drastically, I couldn’t help but note one thing:
Henry smoked pot for the first time at 14.
Now, I’m not getting into the argument for or against legalization of marijuana; that’s a whole other debate, and regardless of whether you feel it should be legalized, I think everyone can agree that, like tobacco and alcohol, it should legally be prevented from being purchased or used by teenagers. (Not that teens have ever paid much attention to legality when it comes to cigarettes and beer, anyway.) But like I tell young teens when I speak to them: Decisions they make without a second thought can have consequences that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
I never set out to be a drug addict. Like me, I’m sure Henry didn’t fire up that first joint or that first bong hit and think, “Gee, being a junkie sounds like a great career path.” That’s never even a consideration when you’re 14 or 16 or 18 and in the midst of that time in your life when the world seems open to all possibilities and mortality is a worry better left to adults who seem to have traded in their dreams for mortgage payments and lives in the suburbs.
But whether it’s a consideration or not doesn’t prevent it from becoming a reality for some kids. Addiction is a biological disease, a switch in the brain that has yet to be discovered, and once that first hit or pill or drink or chemical flips it, a chain reaction is set off that can lead to uncontrollable spirals into very dark places.
If you don’t believe me, ask Henry’s still grieving aunt or sister or grandmother, all of whom were at Springbrook Park on Saturday. Ask them about his final days, when he agonized over the person he once was, whole and healed, and the possibilities that would forever be denied to him. Ask them about his final hours, when his bold and vibrant spirit dulled from a roaring fire to a winking ember. Ask them about the dozens of young men and women who have sought help from Henry’s Fund, how their young lives have become sordid, ugly things on the verge of extinguishing altogether.
There’s still so much to be done, so many young people that need a helping hand. Saturday was a continuation of the battle that an amazing group of people — Henry’s family and Blount County’s Cornerstone of Recovery — fight every day. They aren’t giving up, even though it’ll never be over, because if one person can be pulled back from the precipice over which Henry plunged, then it’s worth it to keep fighting.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.