Charity Issue: Stop the silence



Addiction Is Real is breaking the silence of teenagers by educating parents on the power of communication.

Addicted to heroin and pregnant with her first child, Heidi Bartels was in labor and stuck on what she should do next. When she gave birth, her son was diagnosed with a drug addiction and she lost custody of him. However, she was determined to get him back, and began her journey to recovery immediately. At 15 months, Bartels gained legal custody of her child and never looked back. She is now a volunteer for Addiction Is Real, a non-profit organization which helps families struggling with similar situations. 

“[Addiction Is Real has] helped me grow as a person and [allowed me to] get out in the community and meet more people at places in their lives,” Bartels said.

It has taught me a lot of things along the way.

— Heidi Bartels

Bartels said she was encouraged to join Addiction Is Real by Kelly Prunty, executive director at the time, who she met after a speech Bartels gave at Mercy Hospital. Bartels said Prunty’s leadership skills and drive inspired her and ultimately led her to begin volunteering at the organization. 

“I was asked to speak at Mercy Hospital to the nursing and doctor’s staff in the delivery department,” Bartels said. “It dawned on me that I was a drug addict and [had] no idea how to talk to my own child about it.”

  Founded in 2015 by Kelly Prunty and Jude Hassan, author of Suburban Junky, Addiction Is Real is reaching parents across the globe whose kids are struggling with addiction. Addiction Is Real hosts events that include prevention presentations and “Hidden In Plain View” activity where parents can get hands-on experience by examining a teenager’s bedroom that contains “red flag” items that would show someone is possibly using substances. The goal of “Hidden In Plain View” is to help educate parents and show them the warning signs of addiction. 

“Our mission of our organization and what sets us apart, is that we give parents the tools and knowledge,” Prunty said. “[So] they [can] go home and consistently throughout their child’s life have these important conversations.” 

Prunty started the organization to help her sister, a former drug and alcohol addict, and help other families find the help they need. She said that preventing substance use starts with educating parents and adults in the community.

It’s so hard for families to be honest about it because there’s so much judgment, that’s one of the main things we’re here to fight against.

— Erin Kelley

“[Addiction Is Real teaches parents] how to have healthy and productive conversations with their kids about drugs and alcohol,” Prunty said. “[This helps] kids [receive] the correct information, and [lets them] know what they might be getting themselves into.” 

Erin Kelley, executive director of Addiction Is Real, said she has family members who struggled with addiction. She said it’s a hard topic to talk about because of the various stereotypes that come with addiction, and she wants to help break those stigmas. Kelley has been in non-profit management fundraising for 25 years, and is now undertaking Addiction Is Real with the hope of making it a more successful organization.

“[I am involved with Addiction Is Real] because my family has been touched by opioid addiction,” Kelley said. 

Their message to parents is to be more compassionate and understanding so their kids can feel more comfortable. The organization aims for parents to warn their kids and have consistent conversations with them about experimenting with drugs and alcohol. She said that with enough love and guidance, kids will be able to grow and make the right decisions in the future. 

“Don’t wait to talk to your kids; you need to do [itas soon as possible,” Kelley said.

No matter what, [a parent’s] job is to be there [for them].

— Erin Kelley

Kelley has been the executive director for two months and has held seven events. There are around 35 active volunteers at the organization, and she said the best way to help out is to reach out and sign up for volunteer opportunities through their website. 

“[The volunteers] take over these events in a really really beautiful way,” Kelley said. “[We] have such a unique group of individuals volunteering on the board and they are so supportive and excited to do what they’re doing. It’s just really joyful to be around them.”