How the “THP Project Purple Initiative” came to Clinton – Kimberly Inglis
Four years ago, a close friend of mine encouraged me to pick up an inspirational book she had just finished reading, “Basketball Junkie”. The memoir was about a former NBA player who struggled with drug addiction for most of his basketball career. At that time, I had little time to read, so I did not purchase the book right away. Shortly thereafter, while doing some work-related research on opioid abuse, I started to stumble across articles written about teenagers, college students, parents, and grandparents who were struggling with painkiller and heroin addiction. Stories of loved ones overdosing and dying from these drugs were also emerging on social media sites. Many of the heart-wrenching stories I was reading were actually obituaries written by grieving parents who lost their teenagers to addiction, good kids from loving families with bright futures who became hooked on opioids and heroin. At that time, no one was really openly talking about the opioid and heroin epidemic locally, despite the fact that drug addiction was affecting families from all demographics. Tens of thousands of people were dying from drug overdoses in the U.S., hundreds in our own state. I remembered that brief conversation I had with my girlfriend about Chris Herren and decided I needed to find out why he made such a lasting impression on her. After watching Chris’ TEDx Talk “The Game Has Changed” and the Emmy nominated ESPN Documentary “Unguarded“, and reading dozens of extremely positive testimonials about Chris’ speaking engagements and The Herren Project’s Project Purple Initiative, I knew our students and community would also be deeply moved and inspired by his story; Chris could help start family conversations about substance abuse that weren’t regularly happening in our small, but not immune, Clinton community.
After sharing Chris Herren’s TEDx talk on my Facebook page, a group of friends expressed a strong desire to help bring Chris to Clinton. We joined the Friends of Clinton Youth and Family Services Bureau, a 501c-3 non-profit organization in Clinton, and met with our superintendent, assistant superintendent, and both high school and middle school principals to gain their support of both school assemblies. Our team, Lois Ruggiero – President, Lise Gazzillo – Vice President, Terri Laggis – Secretary, Martina Jakober, Litsa Aniskovich, Sandra Hart-Neumann and Sue Cockley, met regularly for two years to plan, promote and host various fundraising events and activities. Lise Gazzillo, also a Clinton PTA Member, was instrumental in obtaining two generous grants to help fund the initiative and Friends of Eliot graciously offered to fund the middle school assembly. Every member of our team worked incredibly hard to bring Chris Herren and THP Project Purple to Clinton; our community is truly blessed to have such an extremely passionate and dedicated group of volunteers. The financial support we received from dozens of local businesses, organizations and people also made our events possible, and we could not be more grateful.
Here is a little background information about The Herren Project & THP Project Purple Initiative (and website links):
Chris Herren established his non-profit group, The Herren Project, in 2011 to help spread awareness about substance abuse and assist families affected by addiction; that same year he also created THP’s Project Purple Initiative, a nationwide movement to help educate students about drug abuse, and encourage people to make positive choices and to be proud of who they are. Chris has spoken to over a million people across the country, including professional sports teams, middle and high school students, universities and hundreds of communities.
What our team appreciated most about Chris and his non-profit group, was the fact that his speaking engagements and the Project Purple initiative were not just about alcohol and substance abuse education. Chris also addresses other issues that affect kids on a daily basis: students trying to “fit in”, self-esteem and self-confidence struggles, social media pressures, being bullied, peer pressure, divorce, losing loved ones, dealing with stress, both academic and sports related stress. He knows firsthand how uncomfortable it can be to share one’s struggles, and if people do not get the help they need, they may end up making poor choices, and those decisions will affect them and their families in the future, potentially for a lifetime.
Chris has a very unique gift of connecting with students. During his visit to Morgan and Eliot, he told our students that he was there to encourage them to talk about their stories, and not just to share his. At the Morgan assembly, he asked our kids what changed at the age of 14 or 15, that they could no longer be themselves on weekends, with friends they have known since elementary school. One of the most powerful questions he asked the middle school and high school kids was “Would you look up to you?” He asked them to think about the choices they made in their lives and whether or not a younger brother or sister would look up to them based on those choices. Chris shared he wished he had the courage at their age not to give into peer pressure, and known he was good enough without drugs or alcohol. The Morgan School Auditorium and Jared Eliot Gymnasium were completely silent during the hour and a half he spoke with each student body. There were some sniffles and tears, and Chris encouraged those kids to talk about those tears, with a teacher, parent, mentor, friend, or counselor. During the community presentation, he shared that one of the biggest mistakes we make when educating our kids about drugs is talking about the worst day. He told a packed Morgan gymnasium we should be talking about the first day, and understand WHY kids make the choices they make. We are often so focused on our children’s academic performance we forget about their social and emotional well-being, which is equally important to their development and success.
As a follow-up to the assembly, our high school students will be completing a short, online survey. They will be asked what impacted them the most during the assembly and if they were inspired to change anything about themselves. The survey will also provide our students with an opportunity to share feedback on other topics they would like more information about. In the future, the Friends of Clinton Youth and Family Services Bureau plans to continue to help educate our kids and support our youth and community. Martina Jakober, who is also a member the Guilford Police Department, recommended sharing Mark Wahlberg’s documentary “If Only” with our high school students. It is a short film intended for teens and parents, created to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Earlier this year, the DEA also released a documentary called “Chasing the Dragon”, to help educate high school students and young adults about opioid and heroin addiction.
Ongoing Messaging Activities:
At the beginning of this school year, a THP Project Purple club was established at Morgan to carry on Chris’s message and THP’s Project Purple initiative. Just before Chris arrived in Clinton, the club sponsored a THP Project Purple Spirit Week. A different activity was planned each day, to promote The Herren Project’s initiative and increase substance abuse awareness. The club maintains a bulletin board which includes the project’s mission statement and beliefs, as well as some favorite Chris Herren quotes. Two THP Project Purple banners also proudly hang in the school’s “hub”. The high school club is supported by three school staff advisors; Sue Cockley is one of those advisors. Jared Eliot’s Student Council is also supporting the THP Project Purple Initiative. Missy Mitko and several Eliot students made and hung purple snowflakes in every classroom to remind kids they are good enough just the way they are. In September, our team also hosted the 1st Annual THP Project Purple Hot Shot Basketball Tournament for Jared Eliot Middle School students.
In 2017, during The Herren Project’s National Project Purple Week, January 23rd – 27th, we will hold our 2nd Annual THP Project Purple Community Dodgeball Tournament. That week coincides with the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Drug Facts week. We are also planning a “Color Run” that will likely be held in the spring of 2017.
Kimberly Inglis – BIO
- Treasurer – Friends of Clinton Youth & Family Services Bureau
- Clinton Family Day Committee (11 years & Founding Member))
- The Herren Project’s Project Purple Advisory Board
- Halloween Window Painting Committee (7 years & Founding Member)
- Clinton PTA Member
- Friends of Eliot Member
- Travelers Championship Volunteer (7 years)
- Travelers Insurance Chorale Member (8 years)
- Clinton Youth Football & Cheerleading (Current Board Member – 4 years)
- Clinton Little League (Former Board Member – 4 years)
- New Future New Morgan Member
- Former Member of Friends of Joel
- Clinton 350th Anniversary Photographer
I am currently a Senior Director at Travelers Insurance located in Hartford, CT. I have been employed there for 25 years. I have lived in Clinton for 44 years and attended all four of Clinton’s public schools. I am married and have three children; two of my children attend Jared Eliot Middle School and my oldest is at The Morgan School.