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Ebony Lifeline celebrates 37 years of support in Valley

YOUNGSTOWN — One of the last things Larry Hunt’s father did before he died was congratulate his son for no longer allowing alcohol to control his life.

A key move the younger Hunt made to reach that point was co-founding and working with the Ebony Lifeline Support Group.

“It took off like gold, and it’s been working ever since,” Hunt, 73, said about the organization that started nearly 37 years ago. “It’s changed my life completely.”

Hunt, who worked at the General Motors complex in Lordstown from 1967 to 2006 and works at Bob Evans Restaurant in Boardman, recalled that ELSG greatly helped him develop a more positive attitude, accept things he can’t change and better deal with his anger.

The grassroots organization began in 1984 to assist especially minorities who had substance-abuse problems. Its goal also was to provide an alternative to minorities who experienced difficulties with established self-help groups or felt uncomfortable attending traditional treatment centers, noted Robert F. Thomas, another co-founder.

Today, the organization continues to aid people of all races who are recovering from substance abuse, as well as their families. ELSG, which has expanded its mission to celebrate the achievements of area minorities, also has a radio show, an annual all-sports banquet and a Sports Hall of Fame / Museum for which it has collected numerous artifacts and photographs.

The other three co-founders are Luther Stubbs, Charles Fitzpatrick and the late Ed Prayor Sr.

BEGINNINGS

Shortly after Nelson “Nick” Clark was hired at GM in 1972, some co-workers made bets that he wouldn’t last more than 90 days there.

The Youngstown man faced his share of discrimination, but family and other responsibilities, along with internal strength, gave him the impetus to stand up to such challenges and persevere. Clark eventually joined United Auto Workers Local 1714 and the plant’s civil rights committee to fight for those who faced unfair treatment, he remembered.

Beginning in the late 1970s, however, Clark was fighting his own battle after having developed a drinking problem, but meeting Thomas and becoming part of ELSG changed his life.

“No matter what you do, no matter how many times you fail, Bob will have your back,” Clark said about Thomas.

Clark also praised Thomas for developing the idea to start the Sports Hall of Fame to celebrate the achievements of area athletes who excelled in numerous sports but failed to be honored or further advance because of addictions and other difficulties.

“Bob had the idea to start the Sports Hall of Fame for athletes who were not recognized due to challenges they had,” Clark explained. “After 25 years, it has become a great success.”

In the mid-1980s, Stubbs, of Cortland, worked as a clinical assistant for the Alcohol Clinic of Youngstown (now the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center) and was disillusioned by the “revolving door” situation he saw in which many of the same people continually returned for treatment, while others were in jail or dead. After conferring with Thomas and the late Jerry Carter, who ran the clinic, Stubbs felt more was needed to help break that cycle and was encouraged to get ELSG going, he remembered.

A key first step for those battling addictions is to take small steps and seek others’ help, Thomas explained.

“With any addiction, you’ve got to do it one day at a time and get a sponsor; you need a sponsor,” said Thomas, who added that ELSG also makes referrals to a variety of other support groups as well as agencies such as The Needles Eye and Neil Kennedy.

OUTREACH

Later, ELSG began outreach programs, with the assistance of guidance counselors, focused in the schools and reaching out to the Mahoning Valley’s youth population, noted Michele Dotson, who retired as principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.

In addition, the group’s outreach efforts include programs aimed at helping young people develop life skills. ELSG applied for a minority health grant that was used largely to host breakout sessions on helping them make healthful life choices, build self-esteem and resolve conflict, Dotson recalled.

“Bob approached me to see how I facilitated the programming,” she said, adding that facilitators also were brought in.

Last year, Thomas approached Dotson about offering athletic scholarships to eligible high school students who maintained at least a 3.0 grade-point average, she continued.

Tammy King, associate dean in Youngstown State University’s Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, noted that another of ELSG’s prongs is to encourage those who have beaten addictions to rise and be celebrated for their triumphs. Many who have gone through the support group have become ministers and other community leaders, said King, who’s also on ELSG’s board of directors.

Before the pandemic, Violet Parker hosted an all-volunteer online radio show on WYSU-FM’s website on which guests from Youngstown and surrounding areas shared their struggles and triumphs regarding alcohol, drug and other addictions.

“Most of them who went through the program went through Bob Thomas,” Parker said, adding that past interviews can be accessed via www.wysu.org.

The Ebony Lifeline Support Group has a Sports Hall of Fame exhibit at the Tyler History Center in Youngstown. For more information about ELSG, call Thomas at 330-261-1825.

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