NEPA Organizations and Individuals Collaborate to Fight Social Injustice

TecBridge prides itself on creating connections in northeastern Pennsylvania—from every event we host, to each conversation our Executive Director Don Webster initiates. We work to facilitate these connections because we know that they will help strengthen not only our region, but each individual working in collaboration.  With that in mind, we felt compelled to share with you examples of impressive interdependence taking place that are literally saving lives in some instances.

The Opposite of Addiction is Human Connection

British/Swiss author, journalist and TED speaker Johann Hari, who has his own story of addiction, has become popular within the recovery community for his thoughts on addiction. He is noted for saying, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection.”

And those connections were being created and nurtured this Fall in an incredible way by our friends at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre. Led by the college’s Shoval Center staff and some faculty, the college has launched an initiative that is creating connections and fostering the kind of collaboration that every entrepreneur should take note of.

Thanks to a grant from the AllOne Foundation, King’s College has undertaken an educational marketing campaign on campus and within the community to help remove the stigma around opioid use disorder. The campaign was named About-Face because the team wants to help people do an about-face…a change in their views on addiction and people who have substance use disorder. Other goals of the campaign are: to educate on what addiction is and how it occurs; change the language used when talking about addiction; and to communicate the resources available to help people with an addiction. About-Face is on Facebook and Instagram.

In October, King’s worked with New Roots Recovery Support Center, with locations in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Tamaqua, to host “Stop the Stigma Wellness Recovery Festival.”

Members of King’s College’s About-Face Team listen to learn what Luzerne County Community College is doing on campus to help those with substance use disorder.

Over a dozen organizations from Northeastern Pennsylvania were represented at the Festival, along with local musician Kris Huber providing entertainment and three compelling and brave speakers who shared their powerful stories of recovery.

“The campaign is essential, especially now that Luzerne County has witnessed the highest number of substance use disorder deaths in our history—205 people in 2021 alone.  As we come out of the pandemic, college-age students and the larger community need to make connections and get the help we all need to get through life.  Reducing stigma and making resources available without shame is a crucial part of this task.” 

Bill Bolan, Director of King’s College’s Shoval Center and About-Face Team Member

Connecting People Globally through Art

The Interdependence Hexagon Project was represented by founder and executive director Beth Burkhauser who facilitated additional connections through creative expression. The Hexagon Project endeavors to promote a sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity by emphasizing socio-cultural, political and economic interdependency and interconnectedness among the local, the national and the global communities.

Nearly every visitor to this event–whether a King’s College student, a faculty or staff member of the college, a community member or staff from participating organizations–engaged with Beth at the Hexagon Project’s table and created a hexagon inspired by the spirit of the event, speakers’ powerful messages and prompts Beth created on a display board.

Hexagon Project’s Executive Director Beth Burkhauser talks about the strength and power of community collaborations with Luzerne County Community College’s representative.

The Hexagon Project has international participation from schools and community members and has a presence at events throughout NEPA to encourage people to decorate or express an idea, a feeling, etc. on a blank hexagon that is later displayed with other hexagons. In the case of the Wellness Recovery Festival, Beth encouraged people to think about what it means for them to feel connected and what practices they put into place to feel that way.

The creative expressions included words, decoupage, collage, stampings, drawings and original illustrations beautifully and thoughtfully drawn. One hexagon in particular stood out with the amazing message: “Even a broken crayon still colors.”

Hexagons created at the Recovery Festival became a focal point to exemplify the value of connections later at King’s College’s Widmann Art Gallery in November and December with an opening reception during “Hunger for Justice Week.”

King’s College coordinated displays that educated about homelessness, food insecurity and substance use disorder. The exhibit also included the authentic photojournalism of Focus Journalism, a tree-shaped display of canned foods by King’s engineering students to be distributed to the food pantry at New Roots Recovery Support Center and educational PSAs about substance use disorder designed and animated by graphic arts students from Dr. Karen Mercincavage’s class using research conducted by King’s healthcare graduate students of Dr. Michele McGowan.

As if this wasn’t already a robust embodiment of connection and collaboration, another generation was brought in to learn from this example. Middle school students who participate in King’s College’s Hispanic Outreach Program visited the gallery to learn about social injustice and become educated about the many individuals and organizations working hard together to create solutions to improve the lives of many in northeastern Pennsylvania. Their visit sparked thoughts on ways they can contribute to social change. Many students expressed their ideas through the hexagonal art they created in the gallery during their visit. And another link is added to the chain.

Burkhauser points to the artwork created at the Recovery Festival and discusses how it connects with the other displays in the Widmann Gallery.

Middle school students were motivated and inspired by the collaborative work on display in the Widmann Gallery to create amazing work of their own; two hexagons they created are featured above.