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Social Media Magic: Brianna's Hope

Brianna DiBattiste, a Jay County youth who struggled with addiction all her brief life, is the inspiration today for "A Better Life: Brianna's Hope," an organization that now has chapters across East Central Indiana, including New Castle and Knightstown. She disappeared on June 16, 2014. Her body was found on Sept. 1, 2014. The first meeting of Brianna's Hope was held Nov. 5, 2014. For more information on meetngs in New Castle and Knightstown, call Dennis Kinser, lead facilitator, at 524-2474.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

“If you don’t make peace with your past, it will keep showing up in your present.”

“Sometimes, God will put a Goliath in your life for you to find the David within you.”

“Don’t you dare give up on this life. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

Encouraging words like these literally hug the Facebook page entitled “A Better Life-Brianna’s Hope-New Castle, IN. They reach out like extended arms, seeking to wrap up a growing number of Henry County followers in a warm embrace, steadily pulling them away from the darkness that is addiction.

New Castle’s Dennis Kinser has not only seen it. He’s been there. Today, the former Trojan basketball player, local radio station announcer and champion automobile salesman is driving home the message of Brianna’s Hope in Henry County with the same enthusiasm he displayed in his previous endeavors.

“I’d heard about it,” Kinser said. “I had seen a presentation and I went up to Redkey. They have their meetings on Wednesday. I was going up there two or three times a month. It got to the point where the participants knew me.”

Kinser remembers one particular meeting in which Randy Davis, the founder of Brianna’s hope, said there was time for one more question. It was a question that motivated Kinser to decide Henry County needed the same answer.

“A guy raises his hand and the guest speaker, a young woman, looks down as she acknowledges him,” Kinser said. “The man asks ‘Mary, is there anything that your mother and I did to drive you to drugs?

“That was pretty powerful,” Kinser recalled. “They reconciled right then. And I started thinking about it all.”

A second tug at Kinser’s heart came as awards were being passed out for being sober or off drugs a certain length of time. A young woman stood up after the presentations and announced “All of you know I should have gotten my 150-day tag, but I relapsed.”

“When was that?” one of the participants said. 

“Saturday,” she replied.

“Well, you’re four days clean,” the participant said putting a positive spin on the situation. And then, Kinser watched in amazement as every person at the meeting walked up to the woman and hugged her.

“I came back after seeing this to Tom McGilliard, our pastor, and said ‘Tom, we need to do this,’ Kinser said.

And “A Better Life: Brianna’s Hope” was born in New Castle.

Today, there are chapters both here and in Knightstown, with Kinser serving as the lead facilitator.

The Facebook page keeps members informed of activities and offers a vehicle for them to support each other. The New Castle arm of this group meets 6 p.m. Tuesdays at The Place, a second campus for the First United Methodist Church. The Knightstown group meets 6 p.m. Thursdays at The Harbor, 9002 W. U.S. 40. A meal is served at 6 p.m., the meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.

And if there was any doubt about the need for such an organization, it’s been quelled by the robust attendance of these local meetings.

“We thought we’d be happy if we had 10 or 15 participants at the end of the year,” Kinser said. “We’ve had as many as 90 people a couple of times. We’ve averaged between 60 and 70 people every week. And we’re just scratching the surface.”

The Henry County growth as a result of Brianna’s Hope is typical of other counties with chapters. Kinser said that in five years, Brianna’s Hope has been responsible for getting more than 800 people into rehabilitation.

“We’ve probably sent 20 people from Henry County in the last 18 months,” Kinser said.

True life stories of this faith-based, participant-driven organization are heart-wrenching.

“One guy is 53 years old,” Kinser said. “His grandfather got him started drinking whiskey at age 5, and for 46 years now, he’s been an alcoholic,” Kinser said.

“Another guy is 33 years old with two little kids, about ready to get divorced,” Kinser continued. “He started coming and recently got his 60-day pin for being sober that long. He said ‘60 days is the longest I’ve been sober since I was 11 years old.’”

Kinser can relate to those who come to Brianna’s Hope on more than just a Christian level. At one time, he, too, was addicted to opiates.

“I had problems about 18 or 19 years ago because of health issues,” Kinser said. “I got addicted to an opiate. I didn’t take it on a Tuesday morning, thought I didn’t need it. Tuesday night I got home and thought, man I’m getting the flu. Wednesday morning, I got up and thought I was dying.

“My doctor asked ‘when’s the last time you took your pain medicine?’

“Monday morning,” I said.

“You’re going through withdrawals,” the doctor said.

Kinser immediately told the doctor he wanted off the pain medication. It took four months under a doctor’s supervision to wean himself away from it. Those who go it alone have little chance of success.

“I thought if I’d gone to detox and just went cold turkey, it would have been unbelievably hard,” Kinser said. “I had a good family, good friends and a good church who supported me. Without that, if someone had come and offered me a pill and said ‘take this’ I would have taken it to feel better. So I understand what the people who come to these Brianna’s Hope meetings are going through.

“Everybody who’s ever been on drugs has probably said at one time or another, ‘I want off,’” Kinser added. “But unless they have good support, it’s a very hard thing to do.’”

That’s why Brianna’s Hope has been such a Godsend to so many. Facebook friends become family. Regular meetings become like family dinners. There isn’t anything that can’t be shared – or overcome.

“Statistics show 30 percent of people who go to rehabilitation are successful within a year,” Kinser said. “If they go to a support group, that rises to 50 percent. When they know there are other people going through the same thing, it bumps that success rate up 20 percent.”

Kinser said anyone who believes addiction isn’t a problem in Henry County has their heads in the sand. This area is literally surrounded with problems.

“In a 10-day period, a neighboring community just across the county line had 30 overdoses. It was a town smaller than New Castle. Six of them died.”

Nationally, addiction numbers are staggering. In 2017, it was estimated 2.1 million people suffered from opioid addiction in the United States. More than a third of opiate deaths came not from illegal use, but involved a prescription. A whopping 80 percent of heroin users admitted misusing prescription drugs prior to their illegal drug habit.

That’s why more and more Brianna’s Hope chapters are popping up. There are now 38 of them in Indiana.

Kinser believes many have the same experience he had the first time they walk into a meeting.

“The first time people come, it affects them,” Kinser said.

The group’s philosophy is as comforting as the group itself.

“We’re not ahead pulling them,” Kinser said. “We’re not behind pushing them. We’re beside them, walking with them.”

For more information about the local Brianna’s Hope meetings or to volunteer providing a meal at one of the upcoming meetings, call Kinser at 765-524-2474.

Brianna’s Hope: A tragedy turned into a triumph for others

Brianna DiBattiste was much like most other young women her age. She grew up in a small town. She was a cheerleader, played softball, loved spending time with family and hanging out with her friends. She usually made friends easily and would give a stranger the coat off her back if they were cold. She showed an unconditional love and concern for those around her.

But, like you and me, she was far from perfect. Unfortunately, she made a bad choice and experimented with drugs at a very young age. It was then that heroin began to take control of her life. She tried rehab several times in an attempt to beat her addiction, but the temptation was too much for her. She felt she had no other choice but to continue using.

One evening in June 2014, Brianna left her home to meet a “friend.” But she didn’t come home that night. Calls and texts to her phone went unanswered. Sadly that was the last time anyone in her family would see her again. After several months of hoping and searching, her body was found in a somewhat secluded and wooded area in Jay County. Although it wasn’t the outcome her family had hoped for...finally, she was home.

During the time she was missing, Brianna’s mother had found a note that her daughter had written. It was a prayer to God. In the note, she begged the Lord to help her find a better life for her and her family. It was this prayer that would plant the seed for “A Better Life” to grow.

​After leading the memorial service, Pastor Randy Davis approached Brianna’s family about the idea of establishing a faith-based addiction support group in her memory. A few months later, on November 8, 2014, “A Better Life - Brianna’s Hope” was formed. What began as a small neighborhood group meeting in a quiet rural town with about a dozen or so people in attendance, has grown to a full-fledged non-profit organization with 25 chapters 17 counties throughout most of Indiana and more recently, Ohio. Brianna’s Hope has been blessed with the opportunity to assist more than 400 people with finding and receiving detox and/or rehabilitation services that they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

For more information on local meetings, call Dennis Kinser at 765-524-2474.

– From Brianna’s Hope website

Brianna’s Prayer

This prayer was found in Brianna DiBattiste’s notebook after her death in June 2014. It is now the “foundational document” for Brianna’s Hope.

“Please Lord, look after me and my family. Please help me do the right thing and to show people that I am not a bad person inside or out and help me Lord to get through this disappointment again and know I make mistakes but who doesn’t. I don’t do it to do wrong. I do it cuz I feel I have no other choice. I want a better life, Lord, I do. Please help me. Do to me as what you feel is best. I surrender to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

– From Brianna’s Hope website