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MOUNT WASHINGTON - Five years ago, Thrissie Dohn was a meth addict. Her life and the lives of her family were all but ruined.
Today, Dohn is five years drug-free, has a great relationship with her family, and is being recognized by the governor for efforts to combat drug abuse.
Dohn was selected as the recipient of the 2011 Governor’s Award for Volunteerism and Service Challenge Award. She received the award June 11 at an invitation-only dinner hosted at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort.
Dohn was nominated by her peers at the Bullitt County Health Department Partners in Prevention (PIP) Program, where Dohn currently volunteers as assistant coordinator and chairperson. The program surprised Dohn with the announcement at a recent PIP meeting.
“I’m so caught off guard,” she said at the meeting. “Never in a million years did I think... five years ago I would’ve told you you were crazy. I’m so humbled.”
Dohn said it was hard for her to accept an award she felt so many around her deserved for their efforts.
“Many other volunteers deserve this, I feel, way more than I do,” she said.
Dohn first volunteered with PIP after nine moths of treatment and a year of sobriety. She was receiving services at the Health Department and noticed a PIP flier. She was pleased to receive a warm welcome.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and they completely welcomed me with open arms and completely wanted to hear what I had to say,” she recalled. “They valued my perspective. I had much respect for them for that.”
PIP coordinator Brittany Taylor made the announcement, adding that Dohn was well-deserving of her award after more than three years of community service.
“(Dohn) volunteers in schools here and in other counties,” said Taylor. “Just about anybody that calls her, she’ll speak. And people will listen to her.”
Taylor said Dohn’s personal yet blunt approach to sharing life experiences with real-world knowledge helped her offer advice that few could survive and share.
“She knows the consequences, and she’s dealing with it now, she’s responsible,” Taylor said. “Every day for her is recovering. (Volunteering) keeps her focused, grounded. She doesn’t mind if it makes her look bad if it helps someone else.”
Among Dohn’s achievements, Taylor mentioned Dohn’s involvement with establishing a Students Against Destructive Decision (SADD) chapter at Mount Washington Middle School with Youth Service Center coordinator Megan Hatter.
“I feel (Dohn’s) dedication to the mission of prevention and awareness remains an enthusiastic token of the grassroots effort it takes to improve the Bullitt County community for generations to come,” Hatter said in a nomination letter.
Wendy McCutcheon, Youth Service Center assistant coordinator at North Bullitt High School and Hebron Middle School, has worked with Dohn through the PIP program since Dohn began.
“She’ll do anything to help,” said McCutcheon. “Group presentations, and individual presentations at the high school if a student is using (drugs). She’ll pretty much come that day and talk. She’ll give real-life dialogue of the path that she was on. When you see it and hear it from someone who lived it, it makes a difference.”
McCutheon mentioned Dohn’s personality and how students enjoy meeting with her and discussing issues. She felt the relationships showed Dohn’s compassion for area youth.
“They lover her, the kids really enjoy her, and she’s very practical,” McCutcheon said. “Thrissie is always trying to find a way to communicate with them. But having the compassion, to me, that’s really important.”
“Sometimes I was the first person to talk to them,” Dohn said. “I try to get them to relate to me. I try to keep the focus on my experience so they can see themselves in me. That helps gain their trust.”
Dohn lets students know she used to feel the same way about things, sharing her understanding. Then she would share what the students didn’t now, the changes that awaited five to 10 years after graduation.
“I know change is slim,” she said. “I’m not a miracle worker. I’m not God. All I can do is plant a seed and that’s it, just make myself available.”
Dohn admitted that by assisting youth, and other community members, it serves her own personal needs in dealing with the daily struggles to remain sober.
“It helps me as much as it helps anybody else,” she said. “It keeps my ego in check, especially with awards and praise. When we start getting big egos, we’re in trouble. We’re edging God out.”
Educating youth is one way PIP members feel will aid in combating drug use within the community. Another combative effort is through law enforcement.
Since becoming sober and volunteering, Dohn has assisted in many programs with law enforcement agencies, including lectures sponsored by the former Bullitt County Drug Task Force.
“Thrissie really brought a personal perspective to our drug education workshops,” said PIP member Kenny Hardin, former DTF coordinator. “She would tell how she would do anything when she was hooked and she would tell the audience that. She was blatantly honest. Sometimes that’s what people need to hear.”
Hardin mentioned that Dohn grew up in a positive household prior to her drug addictions. He said she could relate to others with similar experiences.
“From a police perspective, you wanted her to be honest,” said Hardin. “You don’t soften up the possibility of addiction.”
Hardin credited Dohn for hard work in developing her presentation and knowing her audience. He referred to her volunteerism as top-notch.
“More than anyone else, she helped the police and the PIP program,” he added. “Others are court-ordered to assist. She’s not. Thrissie is a one-of-a-kind volunteer. She’s the best one I could ever help to get some sort of recognition.”
Over the past year Dohn implemented PIP grant funding from the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) toward undercover alcohol prevention programs involving local law enforcement.
Dohn, assisted by local law enforcement officials and youth volunteers age 18-20, participated in the Remind and Reward program and the Shoulder Tap program.
Remind and Reward works by sending a youth actor without identification inside a store that sells alcohol. If the employee refuses to serve the minor, they are rewarded for doing their job. If they sell, the store could face fines and the employee fined or arrested.
“(Dohn) organizes all the different operations and stings,” said Taylor. “There are things that she’ll do and she just does it. It’s like second-nature to her.”
Most important in Dohn’s volunteer efforts is the fact that her sobriety has brought her family life back. She and husband David will be married five years in August. They enjoy life with their sons Cody, 7, and Tyson, 5.
“I got them back three years ago,” Dohn said. “It’s stability, that’s what we didn’t have before. They don’t feel like Mommy’s going anywhere anymore. I just thank God.”
Dohn also experiences a loving relationship with her 16-year-old daughter, Kaley. During bad times, Dohn lost custody of Kaley, who now lives in Eddyville with Dohn’s mother, Denise.
“They’re all moving here when Kaley graduates high school,” Dohn said. “My mom needs to be a grandma now, not a mom. She’s never really had that opportunity.”
“Working hard to become a good mom, as well as a community volunteer, that makes Thrissie even more impressive,” Taylor said.
The faces in Dohn’s family are constant reminders of what could have been. With the love and support they offer, they include humility, something Dohn felt was very important.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my family,” she said. “I give credit to the other partners and the people I work with. They’ve opened so many doors for me that I couldn’t have opened.
Dohn promised to share her important award with everyone who made it possible for her to achieve it. She understands the past five years aren’t filled with solo accomplishments.
“These people in this coalition are truly like my family and they are my mentors,” said Dohn. “They taught me most of what I know to help me in helping this community. And they didn’t judge me.”
To learn more about Thrissie Dohn's personal story click here for a Pioneer News article from 2009.