Greenpoint Gazette
Dominick Mattina
Outreach Counselor Katarzyna

Outreach Changes to Reflect Community Changes

BY Kylie Jane Wakefield

For nine years, the Outreach Project has been serving members of the Greenpoint community who suffer from drug and substance abuse issues. The headquarters at 960 Manhattan Avenue has expanded its scope recently, vowing to help both longtime and new residents by developing programs more focused towards the neighborhood’s changing demographics.

The Outreach Project has six locations throughout the New York metropolitan area. They are the largest trainer of certified alcohol and substance abuse counselors in New York State. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Neil Sheehan has been with the group since 1982, two years after its establishment in Glendale, Queens. He said that Outreach is best known for its services for juveniles and non-English speaking residents. “The thing that’s particularly unique and challenging in opening [Outreach] in Greenpoint and Williamsburg is that we’ve committed to providing services in three different languages.” The group offers counseling for people in English, Spanish and Polish.

Sheehan said that gentrification has affected the organization as a result of many from the Polish community moving to Maspeth and Ridgewood. “We weren’t as local to the Polish community as we were 10 years ago. Part of our current challenge is doing a better job reaching out to the new players in the community,” he said.

Pat McDonnell, a coordinator at Outreach, said they are looking into expanding services for gays and lesbians. There is already a 12-step program specifically for the LGBT community in Greenpoint, but McDonnell wants to do more. She said that a gay person in recovery might be facing different issues than a straight person, and this is why they want to set up a specific service for them. “The community needs help. We have to change a little bit and our programs have to accommodate the people who need help.”

Another facet of the organization that is currently expanding relates to domestic violence. Sheehan said that before Outreach found its home in Greenpoint, the churches were faced with the drug, alcohol, and domestic abuse problems. “People were showing up at churches saying they were victims. When the clergy showed up, it was clear that they had to deal with [it].”

Every day of the week, the group is there to lend a hand to the neighborhood. According to McDonnell, they have 12-step programs, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and one-on-one counseling from staff members. “The point is to let people know that we’re here and we’re here to help,” she said.

Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who has supported Outreach in Greenpoint from the beginning, said that some members of the community weren’t entirely supportive when it opened. “A lot of people are negative about any type of facility but it was something that needed to be done. The neighborhood needed it. A lot of people want to look the other way and say we don’t have that kind of problem.”

Due to budgetary constraints, Lentol said that he can’t provide the same government resources to Outreach this year that he did in the past. However, he said they are trying to find other ways to make financial ends meet.

The group is best known for their home in Ridgewood, which serves 30 juveniles from ages 13 to 19. Instead of incarcerating teens, Outreach educates and rehabilitates them while they’re young. According to Sheehan, they’ve been asked by the state to also open a community residence for women.

As for further growth plans, Sheehan foresees that new services that cater to other non-English speaking citizens will have to be constructed. “The future in New York City is how do we provide these services to folks who don’t speak English? If left untreated, the social costs are a lot more expensive than the initial interventions.”

Ted Neumann, a counselor at Outreach who took classes at their training institute, said he considers it a privilege to be a member of the organization. “There is a continuous effort to identify social problems in the community and allocate resources needed to address those needs. I believe that Outreach will continue to play an important role in the community and will grow and adapt to the changes of this dynamic neighborhood.”

Education is a top priority for Outreach. Sheehan believes that knowledge is the most effective weapon against substance abuse. “I think our biggest accomplishment in the local context is that we’re able to partner with the community and help people understand that untreated addiction leads to disease or death. Treating it just makes so much more sense. It saves money, and it saves lives.”

If you are seeking help for substance or alcohol abuse related issues, please call Outreach at (718) 847-9233.

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