KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Henry’s Fund, a nonprofit organization created after a Knoxville teen died from drug overdose, made a grant donation to the Knox County Schools’ high school recovery program Elevate on Monday in hopes of preventing another family from experiencing that loss.
Elevate is the only program of its kind in the state of Tennessee. It’s a partnership between the McNabb Center, Knox County Schools and the Boyd Foundation, and is designed to support students in an environment that provides recovery and wraparound services as well as a challenging academic plan.
The purpose of the program is very important to the family behind Henry’s Fund. Betsy Tant, the executive director of Henry’s Fund, said her nephew Henry Granju had a relatively normal life growing up.
“He was just your typical kid,” Tant said. “He had every opportunity available to him. No huge struggles that led him to the place of being an addict.”
She said Granju suffered with anxiety, and at 14 years old he discovered he felt calmer after smoking marijuana. But, he didn’t stop there.
“And then the next thing he knew people were saying, ‘Oh this will make you feel even better,’ ” Tant said. “And the next thing you knew, that flip had been switched. He was now addicted.”
She said he was no longer using, he was misusing.
Tant said for years, his family tried different things to help him. But, when he was 17 years old Tant said Granju was in crisis and needed to be in a treatment center. There weren’t a lot of options 10 years ago for a teenager, and every piece of information the family read said it was best to get him away from the environment where he became addicted.
“First step was to send him to North Carolina to treatment program that was an outdoor three-month program, where they didn’t work on school,” she said. “They just worked on getting free of the drugs.”
Tant said her nephew did really well in that program, but he wasn’t ready to come back and transition into normal life yet.
So, the family gathered up the funding to send him to a recovery and therapeutic boarding school in Montana, similar to KCS’ Elevate.
“He did great there,” Tant said. “He really did. (He) didn’t love it, but, you know, he did it. He did what he was supposed to do. An then when he was done with his junior year, they said, ‘OK. Now it’s summer. Take your kid.'”
She said Henry was terrified. He was scared of what could trigger him not being in such a controlled environment anymore. Elevate just opened its door in the fall. Had that been around 11 years ago, Tant said her nephew might have had a better chance of staying sober.
“He needed somewhere to come back and work back into real life to be able to go to school,” she said. “Henry desperately wanted to be back in school. He loved school, and it might have been the thing that saved his life.”
Instead, his family was at a loss at what came next and how they could continue to help him. Not too long after his return to Knoxville Henry was using again, and at that point wasn’t ready to accept help again. Around the same time he would have graduated with his friends, he overdosed. Henry was found at a home where drugs were being sold. Tant said the people at that house didn’t get him medical attention soon enough. She said his family had about a month with him in the hospital, before he ultimately passed away from a hypoxic brain injury on May 31, 2010.
Tant said she and Henry’s mother, Katie Allison, founded Henry’s Fund because they wanted to use their tragedy to help prevent others from going through the same experience. They raise money to donate to programs such as Elevate and provide education themselves. Once they heard about the district’s new program, Tant said they knew they had to learn more and make sure this was going to be a program that stuck around.
“We hope that through us donating and us sharing about the program that other will decide that is a worthy cause and donate as well, and make it a successful program for as many kids and families as needed,” Tant said.
Tant said the program is important for several reasons. According to the Knox County Regional Forensics Center at least 14 kids have died from drug-related overdoses in the past five years. Tant said there’s probably more than that. Due to the stigma, families might not be open about how their child died. Another important reason is the cost of the Elevate program. It’s free to Knox County students, which Tant said is a huge game changer. Even with good insurance, treatments for Henry were very costly.
“Probably the biggest struggles that family face when they have a child that is struggling with addiction or substance abuse disorder, is that they can’t afford the treatment,” Tant said.
Six students are enrolled in the Elevate program according to KCS. Staff said they believed all 10 spots will be filled by January. Tant said she hopes if others donate the program can grow to help more kids in more cities and stay in place for years to come.
“It’s a disease and people need to get help when they need it,” Tant said.