2005 PFIG Recipient Kevin Carson
College of Arts & Sciences
International Relations Major
2006 Graduation Year
Internship: New Beginnings Southwest Inc.
Notes on the first week
New Beginnings Southwest Inc. is a regional long-term residential facility for the treatment of drug addiction and alcoholism located in rural Southwest Virginia in the central Appalachian Mountains. As I have reached through the first half of my internship, I quickly realized that working with New Beginnings is very different that what I imagined and expected. With this internship, I got the chance to attend two weeklong addiction counselor-training seminars. The seminar brought a very diverse and educational flow of information ranging from a doctor’s illustration of the psychological effects of addiction on an addict to a recovering addicts horrid stories and depictions of their life on drugs or alcohol. The seminars were definitely the most "eye opening" experiences for me and have inevitably changed my perceptions of addiction and alcoholism. It seems that many view addiction/alcoholism as something that plagues "low income" families, but contrary to popular belief, drugs and alcohol have plagues families from the high income brackets as well as the low income. I saw first hand, through the consultations in the office, that alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease that not only destroys and individual physically and emotional, but unfortunately tears their family and community apart by having to deal with the repercussions of drug addiction.
As I thought the internship would be more administrative things, my internship has diverged to include simple follow ups on patients of the counselor, helping the facility with technical support and continually contacting people from around the country for bring funding and attention to the cause. From the outside looking inward, I can see how societal perceptions of addiction are illustrated as a "those people" type mentality. This perception of "you people" is being displayed as individuals from "bad and low income" families. After realizing, first hand, the actual definition of alcoholism and drug addiction and its disastrous effects, one can easily see how Southwest Virginia must stop denying that this disease only plagues those people and take corrective actions to deter this high rates of abuse on prescription drugs. The regions law makers and groups must realize it is inevitably not a "those people" problem, but must be a joint effort by "our people" to successfully deter alcoholism and drug addiction in this area.
My initial ideas and perception of New Beginnings and my internship have dramatically changed. Now that I have truly learned and understand the psychological effects of addiction and alcoholism on an individual, their family, and their community, it makes my internship easier. It still amazes me that everyday I come to work, I see an individual that attended high school with me, here for addiction or alcoholic counseling. Even more amazing is the fact that local and state officials have yet to fully acknowledge and admit that drug addiction/alcoholism isn’t a criminal justice problem, but a public health problem in this area. Knowing that people see addiction and alcoholism as a criminal justice issue instead of public health, continually decreases the amount of support people are willing to give organizations like New Beginnings.
With that being said, one of the facility’s greatest barriers is the majorities’ negative outlook on financially supporting a facility that will house addicts and alcoholics. Knowing this, New Beginnings needs someone separate from administrative duties to head up fundraising efforts. Since the beginning weeks of my internship, I have become one of the fundraising coordinators in charge of grant research and writing along with my other administrative duties. Along with many hours of grant research and writing, I have also had the chance to help plan and facilitate New Beginnings’ annual fundraiser called Music in the Park. Music in the Park is a music fest that features local artist and features food and a family atmosphere to raise money for New Beginnings. Along with the music fest initiative, I have had the chance to be in contact with managers of Oprah Winfrey, The Osbourne Family, and Imus in the Morning concerning support for the facility.
As I have reached the end of my internship, I can say I have honestly made a complete change in my perceptions of drug abuse and treatment. Post 9/11, it seems that most of America's efforts go to stopping the proliferation of terrorism and protecting democracy. Although I sympathize with America's patriotic ploy, I now see that one of America's most disastrous problems is not overseas, but comes from within our own borders. In retrospect, 9/11 claimed thousands of innocent people’s lives, while the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse wreak havoc on thousands of lives everyday. With this being said, it seems that our society should address these problems that are constantly affecting our own people; before putting all our efforts into trying to show someone else how to maintain and run their nation. Throughout society, drugs and alcohol abuse has claimed more lives then any disease or war that Americans has ever experienced. Even with these statistics, substance abuse is still perceived a justice system problem rather than a public health issue, while any mention of these problems leading to shunning by the community around you. Many times, within these societies, people see substance abuse as only a product of child abuse or neglect that is developed in homes with little or no moral reasoning. Perceptions like these, inevitably stops America from addressing the cold hard realities of substance abuse having the ability to affect everyone no matter of the status, race, or gender.
The last week of work was both good and bad. My week was good; because it was nearing the time when I could return to Charlottesville and back to things that I know and away from the depressing issues of substance abuse. The week was also was possible, because I could finally see the reasoning and fruit of what I was doing throughout the summer. A few days before the end, we received word that we would be receiving two grants that I applied for earlier in the summer (this was my first time doing a full grant by myself). I also could see the constant phone calls and emails that I made striving to get donations was finally paying off as more and more envelopes poured in for the support of both the center's Music Fest and the center itself. I was relieved to see all the work I did wasn’t in vain and that the hard work I did will actually be put to something that I know can ultimately saves someone's life. As with all positive things, they were some bad feelings. Although my whole internship experience was very positive, I realized that I would be able to leave this struggle and go back to my “regular” college life. On the other hand, the people who are working in the facility and the individuals who have to live with substance abuse can not take a break and return to a “regular” life, because being in that environment is their life. As I can come back to the comforts of my apartment and college with educated students and people that are striving to make a difference, I realize that it’s these people that work, at New Beginnings, who never get the credit they deserve. It is these people who are really making the real differences that enhance society.
Interning at New Beginnings has ultimately changed my perceptions of a world that I knew little about. Bring from Southwest Virginia, I see the disastrous affect of drugs and alcohol on people I grew up with, but never understood it. I was one of those people that thought substance could never be an issue with “my group” of friends, but I have quickly learned and witnessed my assumptions were completely wrong. Substance abuse continues to plague our society, while we simply expect our justice system to deal with it. For some reason, society believes that the justice system can solve our countries problems of abuse by imprisonment, but imprisonment merely places these addicts/alcoholics in prison, while never treating them. After leaving prison, these individuals, who haven’t been treated, simply go back to their ways before they were imprisoned creating a vicious cycle that people never really escape. The only way to truly deter substance abuse throughout society is to promote treatment, instead of imprisonment, so the individuals can have the ability to successfully deal with their addiction on a daily basis, while reintegrating them back into society. As I will enter Law school next fall, I will always remember the realities of substance abuse and the sometimes-negligent methods that these drugs are prescribed. One day, I will, hopefully, get the chance to promote the idea of creating more drug courts and rehabilitation programs for individuals convicted of drug charges or problems arising from alcoholism, instead of the all too common and unsuccessful method of imprisonment.
Hopefully with more support, New Beginnings can be more prepared for the housing, treatment and education of 40-60 residents in October, when they become completely furnished for maximum capacity.