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.