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Harm Reduction Heroes

On Monday, March 27, 2023, our Clubhouses held a Harm Reduction Heroes event. The event featured youth participants and Clubhouse staff in presenting a year and a half of work conducted by the participants. Throughout that time, the participants conducted research, and learned helpful information on different harm reduction approaches and practices to the real danger of substance abuse.

The event was attended by many local officials and community members and was a great success. "We were honored to highlight the work, passions, and creativity of our peer leaders. They are truly "champions" in harm reduction." - Kai Hillmann, Clubhouse Program Director.

The event was featured in The Mountain Eagle. Thank you to everyone who participated in this event.

Transcription of article:

Clubhouse Celebrates Harm Reduction Heroes in Catskill

By K. Fleig

CATSKILL / GREENE COUNTY -- In one of the Columbia-Greene Clubhouses, a colorful and welcoming space on Main Street in Catskill, dozens of family, friends, and community leaders came together on Monday to acknowledge the work of 10 people who had completed the Harm Reduction Heroes (HRH) program. Attendees of the event shared food and conversation prior to presentations given by the creator of the program, Phoebs Potter, and two of the “Heroes.” The atmosphere was joyous, and it was clear that the Clubhouse is a space where all are welcome.

The Columbia-Greene Youth Clubhouses - one in Catskill and one in Hudson - are funded by New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports, and is a program of the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties (MHACG.) There are several state-funded Clubhouses throughout New York.

Both Catskill and Hudson Clubhouses opened in 2017. Kai Hillman, has been the Director of both from the start. Serving as a drop-in center of sorts, the Clubhouses play an important role by providing “a consistent, open, accepting, and empowering environment for young people to engage and lead,” Hillmann said.

The mission of the Clubhouses “is to provide resources to all young individuals . . . who are in recovery, who are seeking recovery, or who have been impacted by Substance Use Disorder (SUD.)” Each of the two Clubhouses serve approximately 50-75 youth and adults, ages 12 to 17, and 18 and older, in any given month.

Drug use is widespread in society, and addiction impacts not only individuals, but families and communities. In 2021, opioid related deaths in New York State rose 14% from the previous year, according to the state’s Department of Health website. The state of New York has implemented certain harm reduction measures such as needle exchange programs, and promotes the use of Naloxone and Fentanyl test strips. The epidemic of overdoses, however, continues and the impact is felt by thousands of people.

On Monday, Potter welcomed everyone to the Open House. In 2021 Potter, a former staff member of the Clubhouse, developed HRH as a learning tool. The program takes into account that an abstinence-only approach to substance use is often unrealistic and ineffective. The 10 Harm Reduction Heroes are archetypes who represent different harm reduction approaches and practices to the real danger of substance use.

Potter spoke briefly about the widespread and varying forms of addiction, and ways in which people self-medicate - whether it be with drugs that are not legal, or with substances such as alcohol, tobacco, or food. “Being safe applies to everything that we put into our bodies,” he said. “No one deserves to die.”

He then described each of the 10 Harm Reduction Heroes, grouping them into three categories; those who know what their own body needs, those who know how to keep their body safe in a dangerous world, and those who promote safer community responses to substance use.

“The Detective” for example, is part of the first category of Heroes. The Detective researches and understands the chemical composition of substances and how they affect the body, is aware of drug interactions, side effects, and how potency may vary.

The five youth participants in the program, Sha-He Cross, Kenneth Jackson, Noah Martinez, Roman Rosado, and Nate Richardson met with Potter, Bryan Zimmerman (a Youth Engagement Coordinator from Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties,) Clubhouse staff, and Americorps volunteers for a year and a half on “Harm Reduction Mondays.”

Throughout that time, the participants conducted research, and learned helpful information that they will then share with others. By doing so, they will “foster opportunities for young people to overcome the current culture of addiction,” which is a significant part of the Clubhouse’s Vision Statement.

“The HRH program has been an innovative framework for young people to tangibly practice self-care, safety, and community care and community response,” Hillman stated.

At the Open House on Monday, Rosado and Jackson gave presentations. Rosado, a high school senior who is “The Alchemist Hero,” demonstrated how to make a healing salve, and she offered her own blend of herbal tea to the crowd. Her exhibit included an impressive pamphlet that encapsulates some of her research. “Using herbs in place of drugs can regulate your serotonin and dopamine production the same way substances do.”

Jackson, “The Lawyer Hero” gave a slide presentation and discussed appropriate ways to interact with a police officer, and ways in which to de-escalate a situation. Jackson hopes to attend culinary school after high school.

An impressive photo exhibit was on display, with photos taken by Cross. Martinez was responsible for publicizing the event, and did trainings in the use of Narcan (an opioid antagonist) on site. Nate Richardson is a Youth Peer Leader, supporting the other Heroes.

Several members of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the County Legislature, The Commissioner of DSS, a Greene County Social Worker who works with the Sheriff’s Dept., and a candidate for Greene County Judge dropped by the event. “We’re pleased to see community support here today,” Hillman remarked.

The Youth Harm Reduction Heroes will continue their work as Peer Leaders. Potter hopes they will take their mission even further, and expand the program in ways in which they, themselves, feel best. He is no longer a staff member, but he is rooting for the Heroes and looks forward to hearing about their future successes.

“The event came together beautifully,” Hillman reflected. “We were honored to highlight the work, passions, and creativity of our peer leaders. They are truly “champions” in harm reduction.”


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