My name is Makala Stambaugh. I am a 16-year-old junior at Jenkins High School, where I am also a member of the Operation UNITE Club. Previously, I lived with my two brothers and parents who survived paycheck to paycheck. 

We struggled mainly because a large percentage of our income was spent on alcohol. Throughout most of my very young life my dad suffered from substance abuse. When I was four-and-a-half-years old, my father and mother separated. Even though they separated, they still remained in contact. One night while they were on the phone, my Dad demanded that my Mom let him come home or he would shoot himself. He was drunk and slightly unbalanced, which caused him to fall off the porch. As he landed, the gun went off and shot him. He died just moments later.

After my Dad’s death, my reality became less of a nightmare, but for others, in my area and throughout our state, that’s not always the case.  Many children live in dysfunctional homes due to substance abuse.  Many have been taken out of their homes because they have been neglected or abused due to substance abuse.

Pain and suffering did not end for my family following my Dad’s death. Statistics show that substance abuse can become a cycle for families. Only one month and three days after my 10th birthday, my sister was at a party where people who were under the influence of both drugs and alcohol murdered her, placed her in the road, and walked away. They were never identified, but I promised myself that day that I would do whatever I could to help advocate awareness of the effects of substance abuse so that maybe others in my community and in my family wouldn’t become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

When I entered high school, I joined my school’s UNITE Club, which consists of about 20 members from both middle and high school. Every member of our UNITE Club has been affected by substance abuse. Most of them have had firsthand experience. Operation UNITE changes lives by providing vouchers for people like my Dad and my sister. I often think that maybe if my Dad or sister had known of or received one of the free treatment vouchers that are offered by Operation UNITE, they might still be here.

Although Operation UNITE may not affect you directly, it does make a difference in the lives of those surrounding you. Students, teachers, community members, and volunteers work diligently to give access to free treatment vouchers, bring awareness of the effects of substance abuse, and provide necessities for families who would otherwise go without.

During the commotion of COVID-19, it is important to not forget about the other detrimental illnesses such as those linked to substance abuse that plagued nations before and will still remain here after the coronavirus pandemic has passed. Operation UNITE’s programs help keep the people we love from becoming another Kentucky opioid or stimulant statistic.

Overcoming Obstacles: Jenkins’ Makala Stambaugh inspires others with her journey