Starfish Project Vigil

A photo from the Starfish Project of Richland County's International Overdose Awareness Day candlelight vigil from last year's event.

International Overdose Awareness Day is August 31, and the Starfish Project of Richland County will be hosting an event in order to raise awareness in Mansfield.

The Starfish Project of Richland County was started by Valarie Rust and her husband, Stan Rust, in 2012 because of their personal connection to addiction. 

Their youngest son Jesse Reed’s struggle with addiction began at the age of 15. He was incarcerated for a drug-related felony, and when he left prison, he was still struggling with addiction. He willingly participated in the Adult and Teen Challenge, and he has now been sober for 14 years and is a pastor in Missouri.

“A lot of parents with children that were also struggling started asked us for advice after our son had such a remarkable recovery,” said Valarie. “We then had an opportunity to partner with Sheriff Sheldon and Pastor Snyder of Shelby. They had been trying to start the Starfish Project here in Richland County.”

Then, the Starfish Project of Richland County was born.

When the project began, the team focused on providing resources to place people in recovery programs.

“As we started, we realized that people have a lot of barriers to treatment. Now, we try to eliminate those barriers whenever possible so that people can have a clearer path to recovery.”

The Starfish Project works with people in recovery to find detox options, helps to resolve court issues before treatment can begin, advocates for them to judges and parole officers, and links them to resources in their communities.

Wherever people are on their personal road to recovery, the Starfish Project can help. 

“We look at where they are right now and help them along in their journey,” said Rust.

Though they are able to help at any stage, most people come to the Starfish Project to begin their recovery journey. Each year, the Project receives about 300 calls from people looking to recover, and 95 percent of these calls are from individuals in Richland County.

As people undergo treatment, the Project helps in a number of ways as well. They can drive people to and from meetings and treatments, help connect people with resources and churches in the community, and assist them in various ways to ensure they can focus on their recovery.

Both Valerie and Stan are certified peer support specialists with Catalyst Life Services, so they are able to use their experience to guide people in recovery. 

“Look at the number of people we have lost in this area alone from overdose,” said Valerie. “We need to work together as a community. We have lost too many people.”

According to the Birth and Death Statistics from Richland County Health, there were 45 deaths resulting from an overdose in 2018. There were 22 deaths from overdose from January to June 2019.

Valerie also urges community members to be more accepting of those who have recovered from addiction. 

“The community has to see people coming back from treatment differently. Give them a second chance. Or a third or fourth chance. Show them they have a future. Be willing to help provide that future.”

The event on International Overdose Awareness Day will honor those who have passed from an overdose as well as hold tributes to those currently in recovery.

The event will take place August 31 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Richland Academy of the Arts, 725 Walnut Street Mansfield. It will feature a candlelight vigil, artistic tributes to individuals in recovery, and information about community resources.

The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the Starfish Project. Treatment for a person in recovery is $1,250, and all funds that are not necessary for small administrative costs go toward helping someone in recovery.

Donate to the Starfish Project of Richland County today.

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Marketing intern and Thrive Reporter for Richland Source. Graduate of Lexington High School. Current student at Miami University studying public administration, law, and Arabic. Avid ice cream-consumer.