By AMBER POMPA
After serving the community for 25 years, Sharon Kroncke, executive director of DrugFree Greenville, is saying goodbye to the organization and giving a familiar face a chance to step into her shoes.
DrugFree Greenville got its start in the late 1980s. It was around that time that the Chamber of Commerce decided that Greenville, like many other cities at that time, was experiencing a problem with substance abuse and determined to look into the problem further.
“There was a lot of support and interest at that time to do something, though no one really knew what to do,” said Kroncke.
Out of this was formed a strategic committee, at the time called a task force, that identified that there was indeed a problem with substance abuse in the community.
“But every place had a problem,” said Kroncke. “Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, they’re an epidemic in this country and being epidemic means everyone is affected. So yes, we had a problem.”
There were things that made the group different, however. Things that set them apart from other communities with these problems.
“We were a rural community with an inner city description to some of our problems,” said Kroncke. “We were also on the I-30 corridor, which meant we had traffic coming through our community that others didn’t have. Because of this, and because we were a rural county, we had a significant concern about meth production in the area.”
Those concerns led the group to formulate a plan of action.
“Now that we recognized we had a problem, we wondered what we, a bunch of community citizens, could do about the problem,” said Kroncke, who at that time served as chairperson for the committee. “We took some of the things I learned from Clean Greenville, now called Keep Greenville Beautiful, and used the Keep America Beautiful approach to changing attitudes and the accepted norm.”It was found that the norm was an acceptance that drug abuse was an inevitability.
“We needed to change that attitude and the key to changing people’s attitude is encouraging and involving everyone in the community in whatever it is you’re doing,” said Kroncke. “You allow them to make an investment and give them a buy-in to whatever it is you’re going to teach or whatever the attitude is you’re trying to foster.”
From this they realized they’d have to be heavily involved in the school district, and involved they became.
“We knew one of the best ways to reach not only the school-aged population, but also a lot of the adult population, is through the children,” said Kroncke.
And thus Red Ribbon Week, which actually encompasses the entire month of October, was born featuring a variety of classroom prevention education and activities in an effort to educate and keep the children drug free.
When DrugFree Greenville was first formed — the organization was formally launched in January 1990 — there was no model for what worked in community prevention.
“We were essentially one of the pioneer programs, but one of the main things that made our program different was that we remained grassroots by choice,” said Kroncke.
In fact, DrugFree Greenville has existed for 25 years with no federal or state funding.
“We made a commitment that we would do the programs that we could afford to do locally with the dollars we could generate locally,” she said. “We had such a strong belief that people had to be vested in the program in order for us to really make a difference.”
The community was so supportive of the idea and wanted DrugFree Greenville to exist that the committee had no choice but to go forward.
“The support we received from the community was amazing,” said Kroncke. The majority of the organization’s funds are raised during the annual Walkathon, which was first established in 1989.
“The donations that poured in that first Walkathon were daunting,” said Kroncke. “We were really unprepared for the outpouring of support that was demonstrated that day. It was humbling in that there was such belief and commitment to DrugFree Greenville and now we needed to go forward.”
When looking back over 25 years of work, the tendency is to look at the various programs that DrugFree Greenville initiated, but to Kroncke, it’s more about the people.
“When I think back on Red Ribbon, Shattered Dreams or Heroes Night, it’s people I see,” she said. “It’s the officers, the firefighters and the kids. The fact that there were some 2,000 people that came out to the last Heroes Night. Again, that kind of response is very humbling.”
Kroncke has her favorite programs, of course. How could she not with spending so much time involving herself in them? But the one she believes that makes the most impact is Shattered Dreams, put on every four years.
“It’s a very unique and detail-oriented program,” said Kroncke. “Again, though, when I think of Shattered Dreams I’m thinking about the people. The adults who have invested so much of their heart and time into making a program like that work.”
According to Kroncke, one of the gifts of working with an organization for such a length of time is that the kids interacted with at the start now have kids of their own.
“I’ve had many adults come back and tell me that DrugFree Greenville made such an impact on them during their school years that they attribute it to their choice to stay drug free,” said Kroncke. “That’s a wonderful thing to hear. When you do prevention, because you’re hoping to prevent something from happening, it’s very much delayed gratification. It’s really heartwarming and reassuring to hear someone say that you made a difference.”
A lot of these individuals grow up to become board members, volunteers or financial supporters of the non-profit organization in order to impact their own children.
Kroncke is set to retire in August and has already spent a good deal of time over the summer working with her replacement, Bonita Malone, who is no stranger to DFG, having served the organization in a number of capacities for almost as long as Kroncke has been executive director.
To celebrate Kroncke’s retirement, DrugFree Greenville will hold an open house on Aug. 30. The location and time of the come-and-go event has yet to be determined, but Kroncke hopes the community will come and meet the new executive director while helping her celebrate her retirement.
“It’s difficult to let go because DrugFree Greenville has become like a family to me, but I know I’m leaving it in excellent hands with Bonita,” said Kroncke. “There will undoubtedbly be some change, but the overall flavor and concept will remain intact.