You are a GIFT: Local foundation aims to end prescription drug addiction
Story by Lauren Jackson
Photos by Jodi Hyde
In the aftermath of tragedy, Hartselle’s John Bentley followed the mission placed on his heart to help mothers overcome prescription drug addiction. Having lost his daughter Natalie to complications from a prescription drug addiction on December 11, 2010, Bentley knew he wanted to help change the narrative for other mothers – eventually creating the You are a GIFT Foundation in October 2021.
A few months after his daughter Natalie passed away shortly before her 29th birthday, leaving behind her 4-year-old son, Bentley said the word “gift” was laid on his heart while scrolling through her Facebook page. Beyond the literal meaning, the word was to be especially impactful on Bentley’s own journey through grief and finding contentment while also being a catalyst for change in North Alabama.
“Probably a couple of months later God put the word gift upon my heart and that stands for God’s image fulfilled talent. So, you are a gift made in God’s image, made to fulfill your talent in service to others,” Bentley said.
The revelation that would eventually lead to the creation of the You are a GIFT Foundation and alter Bentley’s perspective would come from an unlikely source – social media.
“Why that stood out to me was a couple of weeks after her funeral, I viewed her Facebook page and there were approximately 60 people who had posted what Natalie had done for them. And she had the gift for being able to sit with you and really let you know that you had value and that you were loved even though she didn’t always see that in herself,” Bentley said.
According to Bentley Natalie, or “Tigee” as she was affectionately known by her family, would often help others – cleaning their homes, watching their children, purchasing groceries, all without expecting anything in return. After reading through dozens of accounts of these types of giving and services to others, Bentley began to view his late daughter through a new lens.
“Even in her darkest hours she would use her God-given talent to serve others. Those are the things that I choose to hold onto and also encourage other parents that have lost their child to find. You are going to grieve and that’s okay to grieve, but celebrate your child’s life whether they were adults or not an adult. For some that may be difficult to look at. It was obvious to me, but what wasn’t obvious through God giving me the word gift and putting it on my heart, was that I missed out on that gift. I was blind to it. That was another thing I encourage parents to do today, is to really plug into your child’s gifts and celebrate it. And help amplify it,” Bentley said.
Though his daughter is gone, Natalie’s gift continues to make an impact in North Alabama through the You are a GIFT Foundation. Supporting faith-based rehabilitation facilities and education about the epidemic of prescription drug use in the state of Alabama, the foundation has a mission of eradicating prescription drug addiction among mothers.
“We are small and we are keeping it small at this point until God leads us elsewhere. We primarily focus on local and regional faith-based inpatient centers. Because what we have found is that 90% of the mothers that have completed a faith-based program successfully, don’t return to drugs, don’t return to their addiction. There’s some data out there about moms and addiction and quite a lot of data on expecting moms and addiction. Some of the things that stand out to me is that mothers are more easily addicted to pain medicines or women are more than men. Even the pandemic itself brought on an 18% increase in overdose,” Bentley said.
According to data by the Centers for Disease Control, the average annual rate of opioid prescriptions in Morgan County from 2006 – 2020 was 136.1 per 100 residents. This alarming statistic coincides with other data showing that the state of Alabama ranks highest in the nation as having more opioid prescriptions than people.
Bentley says the crisis can be especially dangerous to mothers as they face the strains of motherhood, careers and maintaining a household.
“Being a mom is one of the most gratifying and amazing things, but it comes with a great deal of pressure. And the pressure can manifest itself in a lot of different ways whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. And in a bid to do the right thing and receive assistance, this can result in an over reliance on prescription drugs,” Bentley said.
Through special events, speaking engagements and book sales, Bentley and his board of directors fundraise toward their goal of education around prescription drugs addiction and scholarships for mothers entering a faith-based rehabilitation facility. To date the foundation has been able to contribute $6,500 towards their mission with goals of contributing another $6,500 this year. Speaking engagements and donations can be booked at the foundations website by visiting youareagift.foundation.
For mothers facing prescription drug addiction, Bentley encourages them to take that next step toward activating their gift, and to reclaim their lives.
“The difficult part for them is being able to look at themselves and recognize the value they have. This is a situation they are in and it’s not where they want to be and there’s probably a lot of shame and guilt. In this moment make a choice for you and don’t think about what you have lose or might lose but make a choice for you and find a faith-based program that’s going to give you the skills to go back and become the mother you wanted to be and to live the life you are proud of to then use your testimony to serve others in your position,” Bentley said.