WILLIAMSBURG — “The camp is something that I think is such a centerpiece of all of their efforts and I was just wanting to come see it firsthand,” said Anne Hazlett.
This week, Camp UNITE, the four-day, three-night drug awareness leadership and adventure program, welcomed White House Senior Advisor for Rural Affairs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Anne Hazlett.
Hazlett served as the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) until June 2017. In her new role at ONDCP, Hazlett is helping shape policy aimed at improving the quality of life in rural America, coordinating interagency efforts on drug control activity impacting rural communities, and building coalitions and grassroots strategies in these areas centered on prevention, treatment and recovery.
She’s been working in her position since late February but her previous knowledge in rural development has given her a leg up.
Hazlett called Operation UNITE a strong partner, and both of her colleagues, Hilda Legg, USDA State Director of Kentucky, and Operation UNITE President and CEO Nancy Hale, said Hazlett is delivering the challenges of rural America including how deep the drug culture goes effectively to Washington.
“If there is a national voice, a knowledgable voice, that focuses on the impact of the opioid crisis and drugs in general on rural communities — it’s Anne,” said Legg.
Rural communities across the United States have been particularly hard hit by the nation’s addiction crisis, and Hazlett has been addressing the needs of rural communities struggling with substance misuse.
Many of those are participants or volunteers at Camp UNITE.
Hazlett, who grew up in Indianapolis, said much of Indiana is rural and those communities have been hard hit by drugs. Although no one in her family has been impacted by drugs, Hazlett has learned a lot by the job as well through her ministry work.
Through events like the Drug Summit, SOAR and the National Round Table in Berea, leaders are bringing a lot of attention to the challenges and continue to try and work together.
“Everything has worked together in a positive way to focus on the fact that this is a rural issue and there are unique challenges,” said Dale Morton, Communications Director for Operation UNITE. “It’s not just what you face in the urban communities.”
Leaders agree that prevention has to come first, and Hazlett said that rural areas need to look toward the best practices such as Camp UNITE.
“Beyond the funding and I think perhaps what was highlighted by something like Camp UNITE is the best practices. Often rural communities feel overwhelmed by this issue but to be able to come and learn and see something that’s been in play for 13 years, you see kids that have come back year after year. They are supported here for a week and they take that back into their own families and their own communities.”
Hazlett is working to get best practices like Camp UNITE into other rural areas.
Important to Hazlett is the fact that Camp UNITE is held on a college campus. She noted that it’s not just about keeping kids off drugs but also about helping them to see what they can become in the future, and part of that might be college.
One takeaway for Hazlett during her stay in Williamsburg is learning just how deeply some of the youth are impacted by drugs. But she said many seem to be seeing inspiration from activities and the resources of the week stay.
Returning to Washington, Hazlett said she will relay a message of just how important having support for local leaders like Hale who help organize Camp UNITE is.