Every Addict is Someone's Child" is the motto of Someone's Child, a non-profit organization based in Ocean Springs and its mission is to "promote education and awareness about the dangers of drug addiction and to provide resources and assistance to those who have been affected by it."
One of the organization's forms of outreach is Mandi's Room, a "16 ft. enclosed trailer that is set up as a mock teen bedroom to educate parents/adults about the possible signs of drug use."
On Tuesday, Oct. 22, Hancock Youth for Positive Efforts (HYPE) and the Hancock County Youth Court are hosting Mandi's Room in Bay St. Louis.
Cheryl Howell of Ocean Springs created Someone's Child after she lost her daughter Mandi Laster to an overdose in 2014, eight days before her 28th birthday.
"She was introduced to meth at the age of 16 by a boyfriend," Howell said. "And it just escalated. She struggled with addiction for a little over 10 years. She was clean during a large portion of that time. But she eventually relapsed in 2014."
Howell said she started Someone's Child in 2015.
The organization hosts Christmas toy drives for children who lost parents to overdose or are incarcerated, Howell said.
There is also a scholarship fund, Howell said, where the organization seeks donations to help those who are seeking treatment.
"We help those when we can and give them a little money towards the fees to get into a treatment facility," Howell said.
Howell said they also distribute "hope bags" filled with personal hygiene items.
Howell said that Mandi's Room went on the road in March of this year.
"We just use it to educate parents on the things like the hiding places for drugs and paraphernalia," she said. "And also the paraphernalia that may be sitting there in plain view, but a lot of parents don't realize what they're looking at."
Howell said that the majority of the items in the trailer are made from common household items.
The items that can be purchased online don't require parental consent or proof of age, Howell said.
"Until Mandi got into the drugs, I was not aware of a lot of this," Howell said. "A lot of parents don't know what to look for so we just try to help them out and give them some things to look for."
In addition to a tour of Mandi's Room, Howell said she also distributes brochures, flyers, and pamphlets with information about the types of drugs, frequently asked questions, and information about treatment facilities.
Howell said that for most of the 10 years her daughter suffered from addiction, she lived away from her.
"But I learned the hard way," Howell said. "Most of it I learned after she passed away. In my grief, I started researching different things. When you lose a child to drugs, you tend to second guess every decision you've ever made."
Howell said that because of the "stigma" surrounding drug use, many parents "don't reach out for help."
Howell said that Someone's Child gives her "something to focus on."
"It makes something positive out of a bad situation," she said. "I do know that Mandi, like a lot of addicts I've found, they don't want to live that lifestyle, they don't want to be that way. A lot of them hide it, Mandi did. Ultimately her goal was to get clean and help somebody else. She talked about that often."
Howell said that Mandi often talked about becoming an addiction counselor. Howell added that many addiction counselors are recovered addicts themselves.
At Mandi's funeral, Howell said, several people spoke to her about how Mandi helped them.
"They came to me and told me that she (Mandi) had talked them out of doing drugs," Howell said. "And warned them that once you start, you don't get out until it's too late."
Hancock County Judge Trent Favre said by partnering with HYPE to host Mandi's Room, it provides the youth court an opportunity to reach more families.
"Because we have a delinquency side to youth court, we see children who are using," Favre said. "This is a way to reach those parents. And also kids who are at risk of using. They may not be using yet, but if we could give parents the tools to be on the lookout. Then if a child does choose to engage in that behavior, they can catch it sooner rather than later."
Cathy Pitalo –– the Drug Free Community Project Coordinator for the Hancock Resource Center –– said that youth court and HYPE share the same goal, "to keep drugs out of the hands of our youth."
Mandi's Room will be parked at the Hancock County Youth Court, located at 126 Court St. in Bay St. Louis on Oct. 22 from 4 to 7 p.m.
The exhibit is for adults only. No one under the age of 18 is allowed inside the exhibit, Howell said.
Learn more about Someone's Child at www.someones-child.org.
For more information about next week's event, contact Pitalo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 228-463-8887.