A Sit-Down with Debbie Davis of One Voice

As Part of the Heroes of Change Podcast

In this episode, we chat with Debbie Davis, founder and CEO of One Voice, a nonprofit organization that strives to help increase community awareness of local and state issues that affect children and families. One Voice believes recovery is possible by empowering people and their families to become happy, healthy and whole in both their physical and spiritual lives. 

Listen to the podcast above, or read below for the full inspirational interview between Jeremy and Debbie.

Jeremy Turner, Founder and Managing Director of EPIC Mission:

Hey there, and welcome to the inaugural edition of the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. My name is Jeremy Turner, and I’ll be your host. I’m the founder and managing director of EPIC Mission. Here on the Heroes of Change podcast, we are highlighting the trials, victories, and applied wisdom of our community change agents, unsung heroes, and those who empower them to be the change across Appalachia and beyond. We seek to inspire and equip everyday heroes just like you to take on our greatest challenges because we believe that together we are the change. 

I’m absolutely thrilled to have as my first guest, my good friend, Debbie Davis of One Voice. I’ll let her tell a little bit more about herself here in a second, but let me give you just a taste. 

Debbie Davis is a visionary, leader, speaker, mentor, retired teacher, and a prayer leader. She and Jeff, her husband of 44 years, have three sons and are looking forward to retirement from secular jobs to pursue the calling of their life. Debra is supported by her husband, and as founder and CEO of One Voice Incorporated: a nonprofit, public charity helping families and communities suffering from substance abuse.

One Voice was established in 2005. Debra earned her master’s degree in education from West Virginia University and retired from a 30-year love of teaching in August 2017. In addition to all she does with One Voice, she sits on several community and state boards. 

So firstly, Debbie, thank you so much for gracing me with your presence today. It’s such an honor to have you on as a first guest and always love talking to you, anyway.

We all have bios. We’ve all got things that are written about us or that we wrote in black and white, but there’s a lot more to all of us. So please take a minute and tell me, tell us a little bit more about you and the work you do. What else should we know about you?

Debbie Davis, Founder and CEO of One Voice:

Good morning, Jeremy. I truly appreciate this. I am so honored that you would even ask me to do this, so I’m really proud of you. I’m excited for this new venture that you’re on and I’m speaking blessings upon it that it will grow quickly and cover the state and nation and can even go globally because that’s just who you are. I thought retiring was going to be a little bit easier than this, but as I stepped into retirement after a wonderful, wonderful 30 years of teaching a job that I love, I love teaching children to read; I stepped into a vision of One Voice and helping families recovering from addiction. I really thought that after I retired from teaching I could just take it slow and grow offices. That’s what I thought. That just really changed quickly. This is only my third year in retirement and I think I’m busier now than I’ve ever been, but I’m a lot more productive now and thankful for that. That’s hugely due to you and Epic Mission. Ending the year with you, training our board, bringing in a team of leaders together, it’s been really helpful and I appreciate that.

Jeremy:

Absolutely. Well, you and your team are the ones doing the heavy lifting. I really want to take today and learn more about you and who you are and your mission and all the pieces behind the scenes. Because again, podcasts like this, this is really designed to highlight the story of those who may not get all the press all the time, and so that others as they listen to this might be inspired to go and be the change and take up their armor, and go and do good works in the community. So let’s dig into some questions and see if we can craft a story about you in One Voice today.

Debbie:

Okay.

Jeremy:

So I don’t know about you, but I look back on my childhood and I think about the work I’m doing now. I think about who inspired me. I’d really love to know from your perspective, who inspired you growing up and then the second part of that is, who inspires you now?

Debbie:

Well, I was really blessed in living and growing up in a family that loved me and cared for me. I grew up in a wonderful community where you could play outside and catch fireflies in the summer. And I grew up in church. My mom and dad made sure that we had that good foundation. But to choose one person, I would have to say my father. He demonstrated integrity. He didn’t sit down and lecture or teach it, he just modeled it all the time and all the other characteristics that I have grown up to respect and admire in many others. But he was always my hero. He was my solid rock.

Jeremy:

That’s great. Well we share that in a time of looking outside the family for heroes and inspiration. I always look at my dad, and like you in your situation, my dad is the one that I’ve looked to. Because he didn’t talk a whole lot. He just went and did.

Debbie:

He barely spoke. He was a gentle giant, but when you spoke you knew that it was meaningful and it was important, and you should listen. He never told me, “You need to go to college and you need to teach,” but he planted the seed, and later in life I found it.

Jeremy:

What a cool lesson that is though, to plant a seed and not expect an immediate harvest, to be patient, wait.

Debbie:

Yes. That’s the goal.

Jeremy:

Who inspires you now?

Debbie:

Well that’s easy; it’s communities. I have through guest speaking and traveling, the different counties and in the state, I love West Virginia. I love the people. They’re resilient people. But the communities really inspire me now. If to be the change, to be the need, you have to be that step up. You have to step in. You have to help. So they inspire me and they pushed me to work harder and to do more, to do better.

Jeremy:

Do you feel in your work as a certain sense of accountability to communities then, these communities that you go into that need so much help, and here you are? So do you feel a sense of accountability to them?

Debbie:

Absolutely, because when I stepped out into founding One Voice in 2005, one of the things that kept resonating in me and I would hear it throughout the community is, “When is someone going to do something about the drugs in our town? When is someone going to do something about these drugs?” And then one day you just look in the mirror and you think, “I’m that someone. You’re that someone.” So if we work together, it’s a whole lot easier. And not one person’s ever meant to do everything anyway.

Jeremy:

I think that’s a great point. We started off the show by talking about together we are the change and I think that you’re a great example of that of rallying people together to go and do amazing things in communities. Knowing that you can’t do it all yourself, right?

Debbie:

No, no. One person can’t do everything. It also helps to build relationships and working together. I think the Lord meant for us to have those relationships in your families, starting with your families, but it doesn’t necessarily have to stay in a brick and mortar. You have to go out and you have to be on the streets, and you have to get that pulse in the community, what’s going on.

Jeremy:

So you said a moment ago, relationships. You and I’ve had lots of conversations and we know that the journey that you’re on, it’s not easy. If it were easy, somebody else would have done it by now. Who’s been the greatest help to you along your journey?

Debbie:

Well, that’s easy, the Lord. I believe that my footsteps are ordered by Him first and foremost, but that always tends to lead me to people. Somewhere along the way. And early on, my footsteps were led to Manchester, Kentucky and to Pastor Doug Abner. And he was going through pretty much going through the same thing that we were in our small town and in Oceana. He was the one that would look at me and hear my big dreams and listen to my big stories. He would always say, “You never give up and you never fear. And don’t surround yourself with naysayers. They’ll steal the vision.” So he would always push and press me on. He didn’t look at me like I had three heads. That’s what most people and still some even today, will look at me when I talk about vision and where I think it should go or where I think it’s going, or how big I think it’s going to become, they’ll look at me like, “Bless her heart. That’s really sweet.” I never really realized and it may be 10 years down the road, but it can happen.

Jeremy:

It can happen. So you mentioned Oceana and your little town there. I’m not sure how many people are really familiar with Oceana, the past and the present. Can you take a moment and talk a little bit about Oceana and where you’ve been, what the town used to be like, and then over the last decade or so, what’s going on there and what you see happening now, where you’re going?

Debbie:

Sure. We started to see the opioid epidemic start in our town probably in the late 90s, early 2000s. At that time, our county had a 26,000 population; it’s down to 21 now. Our town was maybe 1,600; it’s maybe down to 12 now. So as a high school teacher, one of the things that drew me into looking at community and how that’s going to work and especially with our high school students, what was their future going to look like and this is going to be our leaders being built-up. They would come to me and they would tell me they had no place to go and they had no one to talk to. So we looked around the town and that’s what we saw. They really did. And it’s a small town. The people are awesome. They really are. They’re resilient people. They come together, especially when things are really hard, like a 2001 flood, everybody was on the streets making and grilling hotdogs and cleaning and so forth.

Our youth just really didn’t see a bright future, they just saw drugs. We’ve had people come in and try to fix this and we’ve had people come in and write documentaries about us and only portrayed the ugly dark places and never really seeing the hope and the positive things that are going on in different places in our town, in our county.

Recently, One Voice received some funding from the governor and we were blessed to purchase a 7,000-square foot on main street in Oceana, and we’re opening our Wyoming County office there. It’s under renovation now and my husband and I have practically lived there since September 10th when we closed on the building, but we’re starting to see that excitement coming back into the town where there’s new builds going on with businesses in Oceana.

:

We had a State Farm agent come in one day and he said, “You can’t go anywhere in this town.” He said, “I’ve just left the post office and they said, ‘Can you believe what’s going on uptown? One Voice is putting a building up. Have you seen the renovations?'” He said, “I went to the grocery store and every aisle everybody said, ‘I love that One Voice is in Oceana now, and I love all the things that One Voice is bringing to the town.'” I didn’t know that. I’ve been at the building. I haven’t heard any of that buzz. It was encouraging to me that our town is getting excited about just what we’re doing. But a lot of good things are going on in our town right now.

Jeremy:

That’s good. For these things to happen, nothing changes until something changes. And again, you’re up talking about this quite a lot, that it takes someone to stop dreaming, or considering, or wondering, or thinking, and get up and start doing. So the title of this podcast is  Heroes of Change. And you’ve heard me use that phrasing a lot through time, but I’d like to hear from you. What does that phrase mean to you? When you hear Heroes of Change, what does that phrase mean to you and how do you live that out every day?

Debbie:

I think it’s just about exactly what I said. You have to look through your community; you have to see what needs changed. And then you can’t sit on the couch, and you can’t sit in groups and talk about it and complain about it. I think to be that change, you really have to put your hands to serve and you have to put your feet on the sidewalks and you have to make those connections and those relationships. You have to build trust and you have to be that change. But when one person does that, it’s contagious. And you know that. And then someone else wants to help, and then someone else wants to help, and you just continue to see the growth. And then that’s encouraging. Growth is always encouraging though.

Jeremy:

But it’s not always about growth, right?

Debbie:

Oh no. Oh no, it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of heartaches. And you can become very discouraged. It’s easy to listen to the people around you. That’s something that early on when Pastor that told me not to surround myself with the naysayers. So learn to find the heroes and you surround yourself with the heroes.

Jeremy:

So there are a lot of people out there that get caught up in the negative. I believe that our life’s journey is about ongoing growth and learning and developing. So, I want to ask you two questions that center on that concept. One is, when people hear your story, your personal story and the story of your organization and you talk about the struggles and the naysayers and how hard it’s been, what do you want people to take away from your story that might encourage them or help them in the future as they seek to take on big challenges?

Debbie:

That anything is possible. You don’t have to have the list. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to have the whole picture. You just have to have that thought, that seed, that hope that something could be different, that something could be better, that something might make that change. And then you just step out in faith and you do it. If you waited, if Jeremy Turner waited and just hoped, but didn’t put any action to it, you just have a lot of good hopes. But because you see that need, you surround yourself with people that are like-minded and you move forward together. But you go forward with the knowledge that you don’t have to have all the answers. You can take one step at a time, but take the next right step.

Jeremy:

Good. Keep on trucking. So looking back over the past decade plus since you first birthed One Voice, I imagine there’s been some learning along the way. What piece of advice would you give your younger self if you were looking back to 2005, as you’re getting ready to start this thing, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Debbie:

Start earlier.

Jeremy:

Yeah?

Debbie:

Start earlier. Because when I first started, it was just so big. We live in that small town where there’s not a lot of resources and in Wyoming County we don’t even have a hospital. We have no stop lights or anything like that. It’s just a very rural area. People love each other and we have that wonderful place to live, but I wish I had started earlier. At 62, I’m thinking, “I could have done this so much faster. I could have done 10 times easier at 30.” But that’s all, just start. Start somewhere. Don’t sit back and wait until you think you have everything in place because that may never happen. But along the way, if you just take that first right step, that first next step that is right, then you’ll meet someone along the path with you that might have that next piece and continue to walk that journey together. It’s just easier together.

Jeremy:

We’ve talked a lot through time and I know how driven you are. To be on this journey you’ve been on for over a decade now, when are you going to feel like you’ve succeeded? What does success look and sound like and when do you think you’ll find it?

Debbie:

I think I have found the success, I feel like in leadership, and this is something that I’ve talked about numerous times and you stressed it even in our board training. When you can walk away from whatever it is that you’re walking away from and it can continue to go on as if you’re there, you’ve made it. It’s okay. And then also it’s a time that it’ll prepare you to go to whatever is next that might be brand new to you. But I think I can walk away from One Voice right now and with the leadership team that I have that spans the six counties, and the dedication and the passion that they have for the vision, that I could walk away and it would continue to be successful without me. 

Jeremy:

Well, that’s got to feel good, as much work as you and everyone else has put into it, to have that feeling that the thing is not going to fall by the wayside, right?

Debbie:

It’ll continue on, yes.

Jeremy:

But it’s not always been smooth sailing, right?

Debbie:

No, it hasn’t, because we were in 2005 when we opened the office up. We were trying to figure out what a budget was, what it looked like. One Saturday morning, we decided that it would probably be about $5,100 to cover a year’s budget for office space there in town. And in 10 minutes, 51 people stood up and pledged $100. So things do come easy sometimes. So the first two weeks that I was in the office, the phone never rang, no one walked in. I’d walk the office, and I would think], “I missed it. I have totally missed this. I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought people really need help.” But after that second week and people started to see that we were there, word-of-mouth, then, it has not slowed down.

We continue to grow. We continue to open offices up countywide. We have no paid staff currently. We are based solely on volunteers and the passionate volunteers to show up at, right now, three county offices, every Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 4:00 and a lot of weekends. You know that, a lot of weekends and no one gets paid. So when I sit at the table at a federal level and I can say, “Let’s rewind this tape back 15 years, and let me ask you to do the same thing that you’ve been doing for the last 15 years with the exception, you don’t get a pay day. You don’t get that check. Would you still do that? Is that your passion?” There’s a lot of silence. Because they know they wouldn’t do it. A lot of it is just because of pay days. And I hope to do that one day. I hope to pay all of our volunteers. I hope that we can have that paid staff because they certainly deserve it. 17 people on our team, if I would ask them, “If you would do this every day and be paid, would you want to do it?” Every one of them would say yes.

Jeremy:

Well, if they’re already doing it and not getting paid, then a little jingle in their pocket wouldn’t hurt, right?

Debbie:

Passion is already there and I think you have to get them to buy into the vision first, anyway.

Jeremy:

Absolutely. Well again, we’ve talked through some of the struggles that you’ve had through time and had lots of really rich conversations. Talk a little bit about times when you felt like giving up and you didn’t; you chose to persist. Can you talk a little bit about that? What were these times like and why did you keep going?

Debbie:

Well honestly, I have not felt like giving up at all until recently, and in fact it was two weeks ago. It’s just the way the world works. I’m driven by passion to help any family that’s dealing with addiction. We knew that anyone that was dealing with substance abuse that it involved the family, that it involved the children, and there was no food in the house, and all the issues that go along with substance abuse. But when I started doing the renovation on the building, there’s things like fire codes, and heating and cooling stuff that, I can write a good IEP, I can teach a kid to read, but this is totally out of my expertise. And that wasn’t even what made me want to give up. But when we took the funding that we had, and when you’re on a budget and that’s what you have, things started to change because the building was so old. So we’ve made several changes in this budget. We’ve made several changes in how we were going to renovate it, and I felt like I was compromising on our vision and what we were doing. And I called the fire marshal one morning, and I just told him; I said, “I give up. I’m not doing that anymore.” And he said, “You can’t give up. This is too important.” And I said, “Well, it shouldn’t be easier for me to sit on the couch every day, watch soap operas, which I’ve never done, or shop at Walmart, than it would be to help your community.” And I said, “And this is what is happening. Everyone’s making it so difficult to help the community that you just want to give up  and I just want you to know that.” And he said, “Okay, let’s start working. Let’s look at some solutions.” And that was the exact same thing that I wanted him to say when I started the phone call. I didn’t want to talk about the problems. I wanted to talk about the solutions, but to get him there, I had to speak that. It’s really hard, because it would be real easier through the 15 years. Typically, the tables that we sit at, we love each other, and we love to work with each other. But sometimes you sit at tables that aren’t so nice, and they don’t really care, or for a paycheck, or whatever. That becomes a struggle sometimes.

Jeremy:

So you know with the work that you do and the people that you serve, those who are in addiction or have come out of active addiction are often times frowned upon and kept it at arm’s length, at least. With the work that you’re doing, why should people care about this work that you’re doing and the population that you’re serving? Can you talk about that for just a moment?

Debbie:

Sure. Because it’s their son and their daughter. It’s their wife or their husband that we’re helping. It’s people that are hungry for hope, because when you live that kind of a lifestyle for so long, you’re concerned about where you put your purse; you’re concerned about who to invite to family gatherings; you’re concerned about all that part of it. But when we start stepping in and we start providing hope, that recovery is possible. That there are resources now available. Jeremy, keep in mind that when I started in 2005, it was hidden. In fact, it was just resonated throughout communities. Now there’re senate floor hearings about substance use. There are national conventions about this. So that’s why. That’s why. We want to show families that it can change. It requires work. It requires dedication on your part. It requires you sometimes not to care about stigma, that you’re going to do it anyway. And we have seen successes. We have seen recovery. We know that we’re going to have to attack stigma right out of the gate in our Oceana office.

One of the things that we did when we first started construction, we invited the Day Report to come and serve with us and there were nine people that came. They didn’t come as Day Report, they came as one of the volunteers and they worked alongside a crew. They worked alongside people that come in and just being nosy, and wanted to know what was going on. But not one time did we ever tell anyone that they were in Day Report. They did in four hours what we can have done in four days. Everybody was like, “Wow, that really went fast,” and, “Wow, that was really effortless.” And then when they left and I could bring the crew together and those volunteers together, and I said “Those were Day Report participation,” I said, “No one knew that.” I said, “That shows you if we don’t look down on judgment on those, and if we don’t walk in with expectations except for greatness, and look what happens in four hours, what we could truly have not done maybe in four weeks, to be honest.” But that’s one of the things that we’re going to have to work really, really hard on, is the stigma. And if you speak with anyone that we’ve ever helped in their walk with recovery, they will tell you we’ve never judged them. Because Jeremy, I don’t care who we are. We’re a mess. We each have our messes. It might not be called addiction and it may not look like addiction, but they’re messes. So we just bring them in alongside us. “Okay, what do you want to work on today? Let’s do that.”

Jeremy:

So the people helping others have their own issues. Each of us has our own things that we’re working through. So if each of us has our own things, and yet, some of us choose to get up and go help others, why is it so important that these everyday people, everyday Heroes of Change like you, why is it so important that people like you get up and go do the work and go try and be the change in the community and answer the call? Why is that so important?

Debbie:

Well,  I’m going to answer a question with a question. What’s our community going to look like if we don’t? What would have addiction looked like 10 years ago if no one stepped out, if no one in recovery had that voice to speak, that, “Yes, I can recover. Yes, it was hard.” They’re Heroes of Change. But if no one does anything ever, what’s it going to look like years down the road? It’s just going to continue to get worse. Why would we want that?

Jeremy:

How is your work making a difference if you could sum it up? We’ve heard you talk a little bit about, at a high level, the work that you’re doing, but dig into that a little bit. How do you think your work is truly making a difference in individual lives and in communities?

Debbie:

Well, I’m sitting in our Beckley office this morning. We have voices of recovery that are volunteers now. So we have them giving back. We see that there is change. We see that their lives really do matter. And they see that we trust them. They see that we trust them in leadership positions because this office sits on the campus of WVU Tech and we have a lot of street traffic. We have a ‘Blessing Box’ on our front porch with individual portions of food. We have homeless people. We have people in active addiction. We even have WVU Tech students that need a bottled water or whatever. We have a lot of people on our porch. And it shows our voices of recovery here in this office, they walk out on the porch and they serve. It gives them a leadership position, but it also is a constant reminder that they’re not there. That they have come somewhere farther than that, and it gives them hope. So it’s reciprocated throughout our offices. There is not really a head or a tail. Everybody does what they’re supposed to do. Everybody cleans the commode and everybody will fix the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We just meet the needs of the people, wherever they’re at.

Jeremy:

Thank you.

Debbie:

You’re welcome.

Jeremy:

Anytime a podcast launches or an episode airs, we have no idea who’s listening. Those listening to this episode may be in active addiction, or may have someone close to them in active addiction, or perhaps they’re there out of active addiction, but still battling demons and such. Or someone listening to this may be fighting with whether they take up the challenge that they’ve been called to take on. Why should people be encouraged when they hear your story and hear you talk about the work that you’ve done and continue to do? Why should they be encouraged?

Debbie:

I think, first of all, because we walk the walk. We don’t sit behind the desk and just talk about these things. I think it encourages them that they see that there is success here, that there are voices of recovery that are helping people, they’re in abusive situations. I think that we’re genuine in what we do and that’s encouraging to them. Our leadership team continues to grow. It’s a lot bigger than when you first came with us in January last year, and I think that that’s the biggest encouragement. That we are sincere, first of all. We are nonjudgmental and that anybody can sit at our table if they want to do the work.

Jeremy:

Awesome. Well, as we move to wrapping up, is there anything that we haven’t talked about today that you’d like for listeners to know about you and the work that you’re doing?

Debbie:

I would just like to say that if anyone needs help in seeking recovery, to not be afraid to ask, that everyone isn’t the same, and everyone doesn’t have a hard heart. That at One Voice, we’ll receive them just as they are and we’ll help them where they’re at. And that’s one of the things that we ask them, is this where you are, where do you want to go, and how do we help you get there? And that’s our work. That’s what we do. And not to be afraid to ask for help.

Jeremy:

That’s great. So if somebody listening to this podcast wants to learn a little bit more about you and One Voice and the work that you do, how can they learn more about that?

Debbie:

They can find a lot of information on our website. That’s onevoicewv.org. They can also reach us on Facebook. We have social media; we actually have two pages. One is just ONE VOICE, it’s all upper uppercase and it’s more of a group. The other is a West Virginia, WV. We also have onevoicewv on Twitter. All the information that they need is on our website. We have resources. We have all of our board members in different counties. Just to reach out to us.

Jeremy:

Awesome. Well, I hope that someone hears this podcast and that they are encouraged and they either reach out for the help they need for themselves or for someone close to them, or they begin to take on whatever journey lays in front of them and they go at it the way you’ve done.

Debbie:

Well, I appreciate it because this is a new venue for us. This is our very first podcast, too. So we’re really honored and very thankful for you.

Jeremy:

Likewise. Debbie, I really appreciate you being on today, and for those of you listening for today, that’s a wrap. Hopefully, you’ll tune in next time as we sit down and talk to another unsung hero, or community change agent, or someone who empowers others to be the change. But in the meantime, I want you to be encouraged and know that help is available. And I hope that you find some encouragement in Debbie’s story. Just remember that together, we are the change. 

Thanks so much, and we’ll see you next time.

One Voice, Inc.
Regional Office
893 Rt. 10 Cook Parkway
Oceana, WV 24870
Phone: 304.732.7701  
Debra Davis, Founder/Director: ddavis@onevoicewv.org