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‘Very rewarding’: Retiring York County All on Board director reflects on saving lives

For 16 years, Bob Norwood has helped save lives in York County.

Norwood, with former Herald editor Terry Plumb, founded the York County All on Board Coalition in 2003 after seeing young residents dying from alcohol and substance abuse. Norwood has served as executive director of the coalition since 2012.

“We knew that teen alcohol use was an issue. It always has been and it always will be,” Norwood said. “I felt like we weren’t addressing it.”

All on Board is a coalition of law enforcement, educators and prevention specialists that aims to delay and prevent the use of alcohol and drugs.

Norwood, 66, is retiring from the coalition this month.

“It’s very rewarding to look back on the last 15, 16 years and remember why we got started and to look at the growth we’ve had since then,” he said. “I had no idea we would last 16 years.”

Starting Oct. 1, Ashli Watts will act as the coalition’s new executive director.

Watts has served 22 years with Keystone Substance Abuse Services in Rock Hill, most recently acting as the in-patient administrator. She also has worked in prevention and counseling.

“I’ve always had a heart for people struggling with preventing drug and alcohol use ... and their families,” Watts said. “I had this pull back to prevention. Deep in my heart, I felt like I needed to go back and address youth who are beginning to use.”

Watts hopes to continue what Norwood started.

Through All on Board, Norwood brought together professionals to educate the public on the impact prescription drugs, alcohol and other substances have on residents and their families.

It’s an issue that Norwood experienced first-hand. His son, Robert Preston Norwood, died in April 2017 from an overdose. He was 28.

Norwood said his son struggled with drug addiction after being prescribed opiates for pain related to a back injury.

“It led to a downward spiral in his life,” Norwood said. “He was a perfect kid until he got hooked on these opioids. It doesn’t take but one or two prescriptions to get hooked on the stuff.”

All on Board has made prescription drugs a focus in the last few years as York County has seen an increase in opioid use and related deaths. The coalition led multiple educational summits in 2018 and has placed drop boxes throughout the county for unused drugs.

All on Board is just one way Norwood has served York County. Norwood was a member of the Rock Hill school board for 16 years, has been involved with United Way of York County and helped with events such as the Come See Me festival in Rock Hill.

“I always felt like being active in the community was important,” Norwood said.

Norwood comes from a family of educators and worked as a teacher and a coach. He plans to continue coaching.

“I always said that I spent my first five years of my career working with teenagers ... and I spent my last five years working on their behalf,” Norwood said.

He said the coalition will continue to save lives in York County.

“The reaction of the people in York County to the problems of our kids ... when I look back on that, it makes me proud that I was involved in an initiative that has an impact in our community,” Norwood said.

All on Board’s future

Watts plans to build on the legacy Norwood created and expand All on Board’s efforts.

Watts is a mom of two children who graduated from Rock Hill schools. She will bring to All on Board her experience as both a parent and as someone who worked with people facing addiction.

“I see some of the areas where I feel like I can ramp up resources and efforts to prevent drug and alcohol use,” Watts said. “No one wants to hear of another youth dying of an overdose or an accident related to drugs and alcohol. We don’t want that to happen to anybody.”

Norwood said Watts will bring a new perspective to the coalition.

“The potential for York County All on Board in the future is bright,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.”

Watts plans to revamp All on Board’s social media and start a podcast, bringing in members of the faith community, educators and community leaders to discuss issues facing the area. She hopes to reach busy parents and students.

“Teens are on their phones a lot,” Watts said. “If we can provide them a healthy way to deal with stress, it’s going to provide a positive impact on our community.”

Growing All on Board’s presence in schools is also a goal for Watts.

Abi Steele, a prevention specialist with Keystone, runs All Youth on Board, which provides prevention education in York County middle and high schools.

“Our youth are a really big component to what we’re doing,” Steele said. “Having them on board is really important.”

Watts also will need to raise funds to keep the coalition going. All on Board has been supported by a $125,000 annual grant from the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. The grant, renewable for up to 10 years, ends Sept. 29.

All on Board had $125,822 in revenue for 2017-’18, according to information provided to the Secretary of State’s office.

The community and All on Board volunteers in the past year raised money to hire Watts and support the coalition for the next year, Norwood said.

“We’re very thankful for the community support,” Watts said.

All on Board’s impact, 2008-2019:

  • Surveyed 25,000 York County seventh, ninth and eleventh grade students since 2008
  • More than 65,000 York County students reached by local and national speakers
  • More than 8,000 alcohol compliance checks since 2008 to keep retailers and restaurants from selling alcohol to those underage
  • Reduced alcohol non-compliance rate from 35% in 2008 to lower than 7% in 2019
  • Placed seven prescription drug drop boxes at law enforcement agencies in York County. Residents can drop off unused and expired prescription drugs. More than 5.6 million doses of unused prescription drugs have been collected since 2008.
  • More than 430 York County officers have been trained to administer NARCAN to treat narcotic overdoses in emergencies. NARCAN has been used to save more than 100 lives in York County since 2016.

Source: York County All on Board

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Amanda Harris covers issues related to children and families in York, Chester and Lancaster County for The Herald. Amanda works with local schools, parents and community members to address important topics such as school security, mental health and the opioid epidemic. She graduated from Winthrop University.
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