Roger Owens is well known throughout the community as a man who works hard fighting local drug abuse; yet few realize just how many McCreary County drug prevention programs have come about or are financially supported as a result of Owens and his determined efforts through the Champions for Drug Free McCreary County organization.
Having served as chairperson for the McCreary County Champions group for fourteen years, Owens relinquished the role of chairperson this year to serve as vice chair. Although he is quick to recognize the efforts of other volunteers in the program, it is undoubtedly Owens who has been at the forefront of the group since its inception in 2002.
Owens, a seventy-one year old McCreary County native, left the county for many years but returned in 1996. He and his wife, Tamara, began fostering children-mostly those classified as drug babies or those having special needs. After two years of fostering, Owens was selected by the local Adanta agency as the victims’ services advocate for McCreary County. As a result of his advocacy responsibilities, Owens formed contacts who encouraged him to set up a local Champions group for McCreary County. With assistance from those contacts, Owens received a grant to fund the establishment of the 5013c Champions for Drug Free McCreary County organization.
Partnering with Braxton and Monica King, Owens helped focus early efforts on establishing the Lord’s Gym with a primary goal of providing safe, positive recreational opportunities for local young people as an alternative to drug use.
Determined to make a dent in the local drug problem, Owens, along with project manager Brandi Copenhaver, wrote and received a federal drug-free community grant for $125,000. The money helped fund various initiatives including the purchase of the Lord’s Gym, establishment of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, provision of a drug dog (and training) for the local Sheriff’s office, drug testing in schools, placement of individuals in drug rehabilitation, and in conjunction with Operation UNITE, providing drug counseling.
For Owens, a retired veteran who served twenty-two years in the Air Force, the establishment of the SRO program is the accomplishment he is most proud of-particularly since it eventually expanded to include school resource officers in all County schools.
Owens has great respect for the role police officers play in the battle against drugs. In 2005, the Champions group partnered up with Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment, Education). Owens can still vividly recall the first time he went on a local drug round-up.
“About thirty-five people were arrested,” he remarked woefully. “I thought that would take a chunk out of it, but there were just forty more there to take the place of those arrested.”
Owens is adamant education is key to preventing drug abuse, and to that end, he works diligently to support the local schools. In addition to the $5,000 spent annually to assist with drug testing in the schools, other initiatives include initiating and helping maintain the archery program across all levels in the schools and the development of the First Tee golf program for younger children. Champions/UNITE also support the Backpack program ensuring that children in need have food to eat when school is not in session. Local advertisements and signs sponsored by Champions/UNITE spread the word for young and old alike to stay away from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Although his battle against local drug abuse is time consuming, Owens still finds time to be an advocate for sexual assault victims-a role that is dear to his heart. As vice president of the Children’s Advocacy Center in Jamestown, KY, Owens is passionate about the work done at the Center.
“The first child I worked with was a twelve year old who had been sexually assaulted,” he recalled. “When she went to court, she had to go in the courtroom and look out at everyone there. She ended up recanting when she was put on the stand in front of a courtroom of people. Minimizing emotional trauma for young victims when they go to court to testify is why the work at the Center is so important.”
Designed to minimize the emotional pain that can go hand-in-hand with reporting and investigating sexual assault of young victims, the Center streamlines the process and keeps young victims from facing a courtroom full of people. Through the Center, children receive services from medical doctors and therapists. State police videotape their interviews with victims and then use the tapes as testimony instead of placing an underage victim in front of a courtroom full of people. Any necessary cross examinations are conducted in a Judge’s chambers. While at the Center, each child receives a stuffed animal and blanket to ease emotional trauma.
Owens says there is often a correlation between child sexual abuse and alcohol. Nine McCreary County children went to the Center for medical exams related to abuse from June-December of 2016.
Owens’ can point to his own life as an example of the good that can come from a decision to turn away from addiction.
“There was a ten year period in my life when I went through a divorce, lost my parents, and lost my son to suicide,” Owens recalled. “I turned to alcohol, but it definitely wasn’t the answer. Finally, I went back to church, got help, and got redirected.”
He credits Beverly Richardson for giving him some good advice.
“After my son’s death, Beverly told me I still had all my love for him in my heart,” Owens shared quietly. “She told me I needed to find some place to put that love.”
That remark redirected Owens to stay sober, and, with his wife, put his extra love into fostering drug babies and children with special needs.
Not surprisingly, Owens has been recognized numerous times for his efforts. The McCreary County Chamber of Commerce honored him with the 2016 President’s Award and the 2007 Citizen of the Year Award. The Chamber also recognized Champions/Unite as 2005 Civic Group of the Year. Owens was also awarded the yearly Sexual Assault Awareness Award.
“I’m humbled when I receive an award because I don’t do this for myself or for recognition,” Owens commented quietly. “My wife puts it in perspective for me. She says if I get an award it means something has been accomplished.”
For Owens, the best award comes when he walks into a school.
“One of the biggest joys now is when I walk in the schools,” he reflected. “I get a lot of hugs. I want the kids to know me, and they all do know me as I do anti-bullying and drug education in the schools. The kids see me as someone they don’t have to worry about. They know I am there to help.”