CLEVELAND, Ohio – Jennifer Emerald Ayars was gone in a matter of months.
The 28-year-old, who grew up in Bay Village, returned home in September 2015 after working as a chef out of state. She was struggling with addiction.
By the end of February, she had overdosed on a combination of fentanyl and cocaine, one in a wave of Ohioans, nearly 4,000, to die in 2016 of a drug overdose.
Jennifer’s death led to her family to establish The Emerald Jenny Foundation, a non-profit started with about $100,000 of their own money, and $40,000 from a small group of donors.
At first, the foundation looked at supporting existing programs in Jennifer’s honor. But the family’s difficulty helping Jennifer find the right treatment for her addiction ultimately led them to create a tool to make the process easier for others.
“She tried to quit, and she would for a while but then she would go downhill,” Bill Ayars, Jennifer’s father, said.
He recalled recently a notebook his partner, Susan Tarry, filled with page after page of information from her calls to treatment centers, programs and counselors during the search for a place to help Jennifer.
Ayars said they searched the Internet and heard of places through word of mouth but “we had trouble finding places that fit the category of what Jennifer needed,” he said.
Ayars, who heads the foundation, said some are baffled when he explains how overwhelming and confusing finding the right treatment can be for a person with an addiction or their family members — especially if they haven’t been through it before.
The family and a small paid staff spent months creating an online search tool for those seeking help with addiction and their families. It launched May 14, Jennifer’s birthday, and has since grown to contain almost 1,200 facilities, centers and treatment providers across Ohio.
“It started with one little diagram and it really never changed,” said Ayars, an architect and co-founder of Perspectus Architecture.
“If this would have helped us, we believe it will help others,” he said.
The information is culled mostly from county, state or federal websites.
Each entry in the search tool is checked twice for accuracy, through phone calls from a staff member or one of Jennifer’s family members. A new option was recently added for facilities to provide or update their information.
The search also has filters for outpatient, residential and Medication Assisted Treatment options. Locations where families and friends can get naloxone, or Narcan, used to reverse an overdose are being added.
One area Ayars is looking to improve upon is information on recovery residences, sometimes called sober living houses.
Jennifer’s sister, Jackie, has helped with the foundation’s research and to spread the word about the search tool by dropping off information at businesses and talking about it recently on “The Mike Trivisonno Show” on WTAM.
The site, which doesn’t track users or accept advertising, also is promoted as a resource by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board of Cuyahoga County.
Eventually someone will create a better or more useful tool, Ayars said, and the foundation will look for another gap to fill.
Until then, he’s approached the mission with the life lesson he took away after jet-skiing the lower portion of the Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans in 2012 with his daughters.
“Execution is way different than planning,” Ayars said.
Six or seven months was spent planning that trip but as soon as the jet skis were in the water it was all execution.
(A portion of the proceeds from sales of a book about the trip “My Journey Down The Big Muddy” benefits the Emerald Jenny Foundation.)
Meanwhile, creating and growing the website has provided a purpose for Ayars and his family.
It’s allowed Ayars to learn about the people, from state department heads to parents running small treatment facilities, doing phenomenal work to save lives and support those with addiction.
And it keeps him from the “should have done this” or “could have done this” path parents can easily go down after losing a child to addiction.
Instead, he visits his daughter’s resting place or her still-active Facebook page.
And he concentrates on details, like the site’s emerald green logo, that in small ways reflect Jennifer’s spirit.
While his daughter is gone, those seeking help through the website that honors her are greeted with the words: “This is the first step.”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2017/12/emerald_jenny_foundation_creat.html#incart_river_home