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that time, for a lot of reasons, one of which was the stigma attached to addiction, but also because I didn’t know anybody like me who was going through what I was going through. So that is a big part of where my passion comes from—trying to come out and help other families and kids who may be on this path and don’t know where to turn.” She was compelled to create the Young Leadership Program three and a half years ago when there was a string of five fatal and tragic overdoses in the Manhattan private school community of which she is a part. “These were all incredible kids—bright, popular, athletic—and they accidentally overdosed,” she explained. “After these tragedies occurred I realized that it was happening in our backyards and few people were talking about it. The schools weren’t talking about it; they didn’t want to be associated with the stigma attached to addiction. While some families were talking about it, most believed this could never happen to them. With the rise of opioids and ADD meds, kids are becoming exposed to addictive and potentially fatal substances like never before, and all too often they are found in family medicine cabinets. I realized there was a real need for the message of Facing Addiction to get out to young people and their families.” It wasn’t that the schools didn’t have any addiction awareness programs—they attempted to bring in adult speakers who could share statistics surrounding addiction—but Robin knew they weren’t relatable for the high school kids they were supposed to impact. This sentiment was strongly echoed by members of the Young Leadership Program currently in high school. “The counseling and advocacy they have in school is completely useless, nobody wants to hear a fifty-year-old lady just tell you not to do drugs,” one of them said. Another added, “We had an assembly earlier this year where we had two people come in and they basically just read statistics right off of a PowerPoint saying that if you drink too much you can get alcohol poisoning. Everybody knows that, but nobody gets a real or relatable story about how addiction starts.” That is why Robin established the unique, new approach of having kids reach out to kids to create a kid-led community and spread awareness in a much more relevant way. “I bring in young speakers I meet in my world of recovery,” Robin explained. “These are kids in their twenties who come in and speak and share their experiences. The high school kids in the program who are just exploring their path as it relates to drugs and alcohol can hear these young, dynamic, speakers talk about what happened to them and how they have fortunately turned their lives around. All of a sudden it becomes a voice they can relate to and identify with. This is a model we hope to bring to other cities across the country. All you need is a parent or an adult

with access to teenagers and the recovery world—and a strong desire to help address this crisis.” Mike*, the twenty-three-year-old who has been to too many of his friends’ funerals, is one of the young speakers Robin brought in. His story is not dissimilar from Robin’s despite occurring decades later and revolving around different drugs. They both came from loving families and led privileged childhoods, but they were also both born with what they refer to as the “disease of addiction,” and like Robin, Mike’s struggles were compounded by the fact that he didn’t know there was anyone else out there his age he could talk to about undertaking the recovery process he so desperately needed. It took an overdose to finally serve as the turning point for Mike to get help, but now three years sober, he makes it a mission of his recovery to speak at programs like Facing Addiction and participate in the network of young, sober people in New York who can serve as a life-saving resource. “Speaking at Facing Addiction has been good for my own recovery,” he said. “They say the basis for recovery is you need to give it away in order to keep it, so on one hand it’s reinforcing my own recovery, but also as a sober person I basically dedicated a large part of my life to helping others… and what this program does is put the help out there to people who might not even know it exists yet.” The help Mike refers to is the engaged community of kids, sober young adults, and families Robin has created on the Upper East Side. The Young Leadership Program has helped so many kids who are embarking on their own journey with drugs and alcohol by giving them a safe place to talk about their experiences and ask questions. There are certainly still many obstacles to overcome in solving the addiction crisis in this country, and Robin knows there is still a lot of work ahead, but the proof of the power of her living room comes from the members themselves: “Coming into the program a couple years ago I just never spoke about my experiences with anyone and I kept it all to myself… I felt alone, and I thought I was so different from everyone else. But this group makes you realize you’re not alone. A couple years ago I didn’t really have a voice, but now I’m open about addiction and willing to talk about it and spread awareness.” The Young Leadership Program’s next awareness raising/ fundraising event is a ping-pong tournament in Manhattan on June 9 th . To learn more, get involved, or donate to Facing Addiction with NCADD, please visit facingaddiction.org *Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality -- Noam Waksman is a resident of Harlem and works in digital marketing. He is passionate about literature and comedy, and he could talk to you for hours about craft beer. *



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