About Our State Partner: Emily's Hope
Emily's Hope is a legacy charity in the name of a prolific painter whose life was cut short. They are raising awareness of the opioid epidemic, stopping the stigma of addiction, and helping to offset the cost of treatment. They work to offer hope and recovery to more people struggling with addiction. Removing financial barriers is one of the first steps toward restoration, not only of the person suffering from substance use disorder but also their entire family.
What To Expect At The Event
Speakers: Jeff Johnston & Angela Kennecke
Keynote speakers, Jeff Johnston and Angela Kennecke will share the stories of losing children to fentanyl poisoning and how they have turned their tragedies into inspiration to erase the stigma around addiction
A team of panelists will answer audience questions about what they are doing in the community to bring awareness and effect change around the opioid crisis.
Harm reduction plays a big role in ending the stigma around addiction and helping to save lives. Learn how to use NARCAN.
Meet Our Speakers / Panelists
Jeff Johnston is an author, entrepreneur, and founder of Choices Network, Ltd.
Jeff lost his oldest son, Seth, to fentanyl poisoning in 2016. Seth was 23 years old. Jeff later lost his wife of 21 years, Prudence, to alcoholism in 2021.
Jeff chose to turn his grief into inspiration to become a better man, not a bitter man. Through this inspiration he founded his non-profit, Choices Network, Ltd. and started the Living Undeterred Project.
His mission is to bring awareness, raise funds and stop the stigma surrounding mental health, substance abuse, and addiction. He is traveling across the country for the Living Undeterred Tour to talk about these issues and begin to share new ideas on how we can end the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction and ultimately save lives.
Angela Kennecke is an award-winning investigative journalist who was working on a story on drug overdoses on the day she got the news her 21-year-old daughter died of an overdose. Emily died of fentanyl poisoning.
Angela started a charity called “Emily’s Hope,” because she never gave up hope on her daughter and now wants to offer hope to other families struggling with addiction.
Angela believes when tragedy and setbacks strike the only thing you have control over is your response. Angela’s response to the loss of her beautiful and beloved daughter is to turn heartbreak into action by erasing the stigma surrounding addiction and advocate for more funding, better treatment, and more research and understanding of the disease claiming so many lives.
Dr. Melissa Dittberner
Dr. Melissa "Mo" Dittberner is a professor in the Addiction Counseling and Prevention Department at the University of South Dakota and has been teaching in higher education for more than seven years. She does research on college students’ substance use, pedagogy, addiction, and harm reduction. Not only is she very passionate about drug and alcohol prevention, but she is a person in long-term recovery from trauma, abuse, and addiction.
Dr. Matt Stanley
Dr. Stanley is the Vice President of Avera Behavioral Health and the Medical Director of the Avera Addiction Care Center. He is a member of the Emily's Hope Board of Directors and often serves as the medical expert on panels discussing the opioid crisis with Angela Kennecke.
Melissa Flynn lost her 25-year-old stepson, Nicholas, to fentanyl poisoning in 2018. She is a volunteer Community Educator for Addiction Policy Forum, a former volunteer Board Member for Face It TOGETHER, and she volunteers at the Avera Addiction Care Center in Sioux Falls. Angela and Melissa represented the State of South Dakota in DC for the Addiction Policy Forum in 2019.
Jon Thum is the chief of the Sioux Falls Police Department. He started his law enforcement career in 2005 as a patrol cop, and he started working with the Sioux Falls SWAT team in 2010.