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Holiday decorations displayed in Huntington

HUNTINGTON — Holiday decorations can be seen throughout Huntington.

Workers began installing decorations over the past week around the city and at landmarks like the Cabell County Courthouse.

The city of Huntington announced that the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony will be 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, at the Mountain Health Arena Plaza.

The Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District set the date for the Ritter Park Christmas Display Lighting to begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 3, at the fountain area.

School district working to equip, educate grandparents raising children

HUNTINGTON — Grandfamilies in Cabell County have a new way to connect with the school district through an initiative put forth by central office administrators.

A term some may not be familiar with, a “grandfamily,” or kinship care, is a common reference to describe a situation where children are being raised by their grandparents.

“We have, in our community, a lot of grandparents that are acting as primary caregivers, and those families are very unique and have different types of needs,” said Ashley Stephens, family and community engagement facilitator for Cabell County Schools.

In those situations, oftentimes grandparents are left without or don’t know how to access certain resources or assist their children with certain new technological components of modern education they’ve not been introduced to before.

To address the issue, Stephens said the concept of a “grandfamilies dinner” came about. Those family groups are able to sign up ahead of time and attend a dinner, while gaining access to resources available to them through the school district.

“This exists so we can address those needs and share with them some resources that we have to offer as a school system,” Stephens said. “Learning on the fly is hard enough, but doing it with a generational gap where maybe you’re not as familiar with what schools looks like now or what discipline and educational support looks like from a parent’s perspective, creates new challenges.”

November’s event was the first of several grandfamily dinners the district plans to host this academic year. Food and child care will be provided at each dinner, but Stephens said it is as much about educating the grandparents as it is anything else.

“At every single one of these, we are bringing resources to the table that they can use and so that they know what’s available to them. Anything that we have access to, we want them to know that they also have access to it,” Stephens said.

The first grandfamilies night focused on communication, something Stephens said is the foundation of everything they do as a school system. The next event will likely be focused on using new technology and accessing school resources during remote learning.

The next event is scheduled for Jan. 31, 2022, at Guyandotte Elementary School in Huntington. Registration for the event and more information about it will be available closer to the event.

Health department gains support for harm reduction program from city, to seek support from county

HUNTINGTON — To obtain a state license, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s harm reduction program needs support from both the city and the county.

According to a bill that Gov. Jim Justice signed into law in April, a health department’s licensure for a harm reduction program that includes a syringe exchange program needs approval from both the county and municipality in which it operates. Cabell-Huntington’s program received support from the Huntington City Council on Monday and a similar motion is expected to go before the Cabell County Commission at a future meeting.

After several council members asked questions about the program of Dr. Michael Kilkenny, the CEO and health officer of the health department, council members voted 7-3 in favor of supporting the harm reduction program. Council members in favor were Sarah Walling, Bob Bailey, DuRon Jackson, Teresa Johnson, Pat Jones, Tia Rumbaugh and Holly Smith Mount. Those against were Dale Anderson, Tyler Bowen and Todd Sweeney. Council Chairman Mike Shockley was absent from the meeting.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s harm reduction program began in 2015. About 900 clients are served by the program, Kilkenny told council members. The syringe exchange is one part of the several services within the harm reduction program, Kilkenny said. He added that the harm reduction allows the department to make contact and give further information and services for addiction treatment. Under the new legislation, the health department’s existing program would have minimal changes.

On Wednesday, Kilkenny told The Herald-Dispatch that the harm reduction program is a “proven winner” in this community.

“The harm reduction program has been especially helpful in control of the HIV outbreaks that we had in 2018 and 2019 and is essential for our continued improvement in numbers of cases of HIV that we have and ongoing control because sterile syringes are preventative of that disease and because it’s … an acceptable touch point for most people who are injecting drugs,” Kilkenny said. “They know they can safely come there and they’ll be treated with respect and we’ll help arrange their testing.”

At the end of the Cabell County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Kelli Sobonya asked if the item would be included on the commission agenda soon. County Administrator Beth Thompson said the health department would need to request the item be added.

Kilkenny said on Wednesday that the department plans to request the item as soon as possible so it has time to submit an application to the state for its license in early December and give time for review. The health department would like to be officially licensed Jan. 1, he added.

After the meeting, Sobonya said commissioners spoke with health department officials about the harm reduction program during an executive session at a previous meeting. Kilkenny also confirmed the topic, adding that commissioners were given educational information about the harm reduction program and its services.