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ODU Students Create Organization to Heighten Awareness About Dangers of Substance Abuse

Project Purple-Chris HerrenChris Herren and Jamie Hughes

Following a talk at Old Dominion University in the spring, former NBA player and recovering drug addict Chris Herren has inspired several ODU student organizations to turn the campus "purple."

In April, Herren related to an ODU audience the harrowing story of how substance abuse ended his professional basketball career and almost took his life.

Inspired by his message, a group of students created an ODU chapter of Project Purple, a campaign designed to break the stigma of addiction, bring awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and shed light on effective treatment practices. Project Purple is an initiative of the Herren Project, a nonprofit foundation Herren established to help individuals and families struggling with addiction.

Jamie Hughes, a senior communication major and 2012 Miss Virginia United States, spearheaded the drive for a Project Purple chapter on campus after hearing Herren speak. She organized a second visit by Herren in October to speak at a formal dinner in support of Project Purple initiatives.

"It is a passion of mine, along with several other students, and together we have been able to make our organization grow throughout campus," said Hughes, who is using the Herren Project as her public service platform during her reign as Miss Virginia United States, working to spread awareness about substance abuse across the state.

ODU's Student Government Association hosted an awareness program in October, distributing T-shirts and Project Purple information to create awareness about the new student organization on campus.

At the dinner, Herren spoke about his experience with substance abuse and about Project Purple to an audience of students, faculty and staff.

"It was certainly an opportunity for everyone to come together and realize what an important issue substance abuse is," Hughes said. "Tears were streaming down so many faces at the end of his speech, and that exemplified how many lives we were able to touch by bringing everyone together."

Hughes and two other students, Daniel Davis and Kevin Muchiri (student representative on the ODU Board of Visitors), led fundraising efforts for a financial donation that was made to the Herren Project organizations during the dinner.

Other campus organizations that helped make the event possible included ODU's division of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services, Student Health Services, the Student Government Association, ODU Athletics, Golden Key International Honour Society, Phi Kappa Phi, Human Resources, Auxiliary Services, the Village University Bookstore and the ODU Police Department.

As an official campus organization, Project Purple will continue to host events in the new year. "We plan on leaving an ongoing legacy here on campus," Hughes said.

In January, schools and community groups across the country will host "Go Project Purple" days. ODU's event is scheduled for Jan. 11-14. Details will be forthcoming.