In Monroe County, Tennessee, “BYOB” took on a new meaning this past International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD): Bring Your Own Balloons. Each year, on August 31, IOAD aims to raise awareness and remember the lives lost to overdose. In recognition of IOAD, Monroe County Prevention and Wellness Coalition (PWC) hosted their first annual “Smash the Stigma Community Water Balloon Fight,” which combined this important message with an opportunity for community bonding.
Set in the heart of downtown, Smash the Stigma proved to be much more than an amiable water balloon showdown between community members and first responders. In addition to the fun, food trucks and a resource fair were set up nearby with on-site Narcan training, mental health associations, and recovery groups who shared information and resources on substance use and misuse.
“Someone approached me at the event, telling me how much fun they had and how they appreciated that it brought some levity to a serious day,” said Gabrielle McConkey, Project Director of PWC. “Truthfully, that was something that worried me going into the event because I didn’t want it to seem like the subject wasn’t being taken seriously.”
“Sometimes when you mention the word ‘addiction’ or ‘overdose’, people will say that it doesn’t affect them, and they won’t listen to the rest of what you have to say. By drawing these people in with some community fun, we were able to reach more people and get them to listen.”
Another goal for the event was to honor the first responders who are on the front lines of this epidemic. “Their response to the event was amazing – all of the first responders had a wonderful time and said it was such a great stress reliever. The opportunity to bring them all together, acknowledge them, thank them for their service and take the time to educate the community on the importance of their efforts was our biggest success from the event.”
“It was also a great opportunity to be out in the community promoting fun activities that prove to our youth that you don’t need to use substances to have a good time. I think it sent a really positive message to our young people.”
Next year, PWC plans to expand the event by involving youth sports team in the water balloon fighting, partnering with the Sheriff’s Office, and adding live entertainment. “I would also love to have the cheerleading teams from each of our three high schools come together to perform a Smash the Stigma cheer. This past year’s event was put together very quickly, so we’re looking forward to seeing how much more we can accomplish at next year’s Smash the Stigma.”