Adam Rice, left, Field Representative for Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, comments about Shirley Thompson, second from left, after she was recognized  as Operation UNITE’s second “Hometown Hero” by UNITE President/CEO Tom Vicini and UNITE Education Director Debbie Trusty during the UNITE Pike Coalition meeting March 6.

PIKEVILLE – Pike County social worker Shirley Thompson has been named the second recipient of Operation UNITE’s “Hometown Hero” award.

Thompson, who helped create the UNITE Pike Community Coalition and has served on its Executive Board for the past 19 years, officially retired from her position as a University of Kentucky Targeted Assistant Specialist on March 4.

UNITE President & CEO Tom Vicini, UNITE Education & Treatment Director Debbie Trusty, UNITE Coalition Coordinator Alyson Salyer, and Adam Rice, Field Representative for Fifth District Congressman Hal Rogers (KY-5th), presented the honor during the UNITE Pike Community Coalition’s monthly meeting on March 6.

The “Hometown Hero” award was created to show special appreciation to community members who go above and beyond to assist their community in battling the drug epidemic.  In addition, the award recognizes community members who volunteer so much of their time to promote Operation UNITE’s mission and goals without any expectation of recognition for their work.

“Shirley’s passion to make a positive difference in the lives of Eastern Kentuckians has resulted in lives saved through substance misuse treatment and prevention efforts,” Vicini stated.

“Community volunteers are the backbone of Operation UNITE, and Shirley has been one of the strongest advocates in the Big Sandy region for nearly two decades,” said Congressman Rogers, who launched Operation UNITE in 2003. “She turned her own personal tragedy into triumph for countless other families by leading community education and support for individuals battling substance use disorder.”

“I am incredibly grateful for Shirley’s leadership and determination to make a life-saving difference in Kentucky’s Appalachian region,” Rogers added. “She is truly a Hometown Hero.”

After raising three sons, Thompson was driven by a strong desire to help others.  She returned to school, earning a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Morehead State University, a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Kentucky, and a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselors certificate from the Kentucky Board of Alcohol and Drug Counselors.

Thompson was immediately drawn to working with those who had substance use disorders from her decades-long work at Mountain Comprehensive Care Center in Prestonsburg.  She initially worked at The Layne House and later at the Mountain Center for Recovery and Hope, both in Prestonsburg.

She became one of the first UK Targeted Assistant Specialists to be hired in Eastern Kentucky, working at the Pikeville office.

The Targeted Assistant Specialist program was created by UK due to Thompson’s advocacy for her clients.  At the time, the federal government had developed the “Self-Responsibility Act” that would only allow five years of benefits for families caught in the cycle of generational poverty.  The program provided intensive services to keep families reunited.  Approximately 80% of Thompson’s clients were referred due to problems related to substance misuse.

Over the years, Thompson has driven clients many miles, tirelessly argued with judges and prosecutors, and begged for residential placements for those who have come seeking assistance.  She has served on numerous committees and boards throughout her career that have resulted in better services for the people of Eastern Kentucky.

In the Spring of 2004, Thompson was instrumental in organizing the UNITE Pike Coalition to help address the opioid epidemic decimating Eastern Kentucky.  She has served in many leadership roles, and has been the organization’s secretary for more than 15 years.

Thompson often helps prepare food served during the community coalition’s monthly meetings and can frequently be seen assisting with coalition activities – a role she intends to continue into her retirement years.

“Shirley is no stranger to the effects of losing a loved one to substance misuse.  She turned her pain into action after the loss of her beloved son a few years ago,” said Trusty, who previously served as the UNITE Pike Coalition Coordinator. “She has determination, persistence, and intelligence.  She is witty, funny, and compassionate.”

“Shirley has made a difference in the lives of many people, and I am so thankful our paths crossed,” Trusty continued.  “I feel blessed and honored to call her my friend.”