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Inspiration and Impact on Staten Island

Posted by: Erin White on 8/29/2011

FSG has been working with a group of stakeholders on Staten Island to design a collective impact approach to fight youth alcohol and prescription drug abuse. As part of this team, I have learned a lot recently about substance abuse, but even more about how the human spirit thrives in the midst of great obstacles.

I want to share two stories from our field research that not only provide a view into the highly complex disease of addiction, but also remind me of the urgency of this work.

A parenting class. The participants had all been ordered by Child and Family Services to attend due to range of issues, some of them substance-related. The meeting occurred in a tired building in an even more tired part of the community. Everyone in the class had a story of hardship. One father spoke about trying to save enough money to find stable housing and get his children back. One mother began to cry as she described a life in shelters and trying to shield her daughter from drug deals on the street.

Then I asked the group about their dreams for their children. Some said education, food, shelter, clothing. I was most touched by the father of seven children who said he wanted them to live their dreams, rather than his.

Mother of a drug addict. A self-described PTA mom. "It wasn't supposed to happen to me," she said. "I am that middle class mom you hear about...and then my son started using, and the hardest thing I had to do was have him arrested so we could get him into treatment."

I again asked, what are your dreams for your children? She answered, "Not my dreams. Their dreams.”

PTA mom from one side of Staten Island echoed the words of a father fighting the crush of poverty and addiction from the other, two people just a few miles yet many worlds apart.

The honesty of these individuals revealed the truth that all parents, no matter where they come from, share a dream of a better life for their children.  We all share the same pain and the same hope, despite our many differences.

That is indeed inspiring.


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Brian Goldsmith
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Moving account of people (and a problem) too often ignored. Well done.
Erin White
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Thank you Brian! Our Staten Island stakeholders are eager to raise community awareness of the extent of the oft-times unseen problem, and the potential for systemic transformation to address it.
Bill White
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This is a very heartbreaking story because of the obvious waste of human beings that results from substance addiction. I found it quite interesting that no one blamed some other nameless group or outside force for causing the addiction. I hope that your work will result in some progress towards a solution to this horrible problem.
carl frappaolo
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Very poignant Erin. The work that FSG does touches so many people, so many areas of the globe, and so many social issues. I appreciate how you pointed out thatin this case, substance abuse, it knows few boundaries. Substance abuse can inflict itself anywhere and to anyone, and thus, in a harsh way becomes an equalizer across communities. I am interested to learn if you find if the reasons "most" get attracted to drugs differs among socieconomic groups, age, region. Thanks for doing this work. All too often we blame addicts for their own woes. While they need to take some responsibility, especially for their own recovery, we need to remind people that at a certain point, its not them - its the drug talking/doing.

Also a great story because it reminds us that in the end FSG is here to help are ultimately here to help- the addict, the malaria patient, the inner city school kid… - as you have pointed out to me before.
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Carl, thanks for your observations. Substance abuse touches many families and communities, regardless of race, income, or other characteristic. Your question about cause is interesting. National research shows the causes of substance abuse are often grounded in the surrounding environment, and that solutions employed at the environmental level are most effective a creating sustainable change at the population level. It’s not just about targeting the individual youth with prevention education, but also the systems and structures in the community with potential to influence him or her.

That’s why substance abuse and other similarly complex social problems are ripe for the systemic approach of collective impact. CI brings together all relevant stakeholders to align their actions against a common agenda for change in their community, translating ideas into impact in a meaningful way.
Justin G.
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Thanks for sharing this experience. The story of the PTA mom is particularly telling -- the common perception of drug addiction being solely an urban, lower-class affliction is perpetuated all around us. Imagine the shock, isolation, and embarrassment this parent must have experienced when she decided her only remaining course of action was to call the police on her child. I hope your findings positively impact the Staten Island community. Keep up the good work!
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