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One person can make a huge difference in the life of someone struggling with an addiction. That giving person could provide monetary help or food, freeing up funds that could be used for treatment. A friend could provide a shoulder to cry on, and perhaps thwart a relapse that’s unfolding. A friend could provide a trip to a meeting or watch over a child while the addicted person goes to a therapy session. With just a little time and generosity, one person could make healing easier, and without this kind of hands-on help, people with addictions might simply never get better. Addictions aren’t problems people can handle on their own, without the help of others.

But addictions can also cause problems that individuals just can’t solve. Sometimes, it takes the work of many, many people in order to bring about the sorts of systemic changes that can allow an entire community, and perhaps an entire country, to heal. When this sort of help is required, individuals often form nonprofit organizations so they can pull together, accept donations and really make a big difference. The field of addiction prevention and treatment has benefited greatly from the nonprofit movement. In fact, it’s safe to say that hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved through the dedication of people who work in addiction-related nonprofits. We’d like to honor their time and commitment.

That’s why we’re profiling five nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to preventing or treating addiction. Their approaches are all different, but each is making a huge contribution that gives strength to people with addictions.


Nonprofit organizations can sometimes provide a voice for groups of people who have been kept silent through shame and stigma. The American Diabetes Association performs this function for people dealing with metabolic disorders, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation does the same for families touched by breast cancer. The work of these groups ensures that the needs of the ill are attended to, both within the legislature and in the medical community. Shatterproof hopes to do the same for the addiction community.

This organization is relatively new, but already, it has made a deep impact. Shatterproof has held a variety of awareness activities, including the “Over the Edge” experience, in which participants rappel down the side of a building in order to raise funds for addiction research. Founder Gary Mendell has also given a number of prominent speeches, including one at the Clinton Foundation Health Matters Conference that might help to educate and inform people about how addictions work and how stigma can kill.

Shatterproof has also developed an ambitious set of goals that will guide the organization through the next two decades of work. For example, the group hopes to reduce the number of addicted people by 50 percent and reduce the societal costs associated with addiction by 50 percent. Families inspired by these goals can work at the local level to bring these changes about.

“Locally, there’s a lot families can do,” says Mendell. They can start by helping their children to learn a little more about good life skills, so these children won’t grow up to use drugs. And “… they can spread the word that addiction is a disease, not a choice or [evidence of] poor moral character. Families can also join the email list of an organization like Shatterproof to stay updated on federal, state and other local issues they can and should advocate for.”

To Write Love on Her Arms

The intriguingly named nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms was founded by people who were directly impacted by addiction. But this is a story of hope and not despair, as the founder of this particular organization was able to propel the person in need into a treatment program that could help, and the founder saw her learn, grow and heal. It was a transformative experience, and TWLOHA was created in order to spread that message of hope far and wide.

Unlike other nonprofit groups that focus exclusively on addiction or substance abuse prevention, TWLOHA is dedicated to those who deal with a variety of difficulties, including these:

  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm

People like this may feel intensely isolated, and they may feel stigmatized and hopeless.

Meanwhile, the people around them may feel simply unable to help and incapable of making a difference.

Through its work, TWLOHA hopes to reduce that feeling of isolation and stigma, drawing people who need help to those who want to help.

To that end, the organization holds a number of activities for students, business people and others the group calls supporters. For example, people can sign up for the TWLOHA Street Team, participating in online activities that help to raise awareness and reduce stigma. High school students can even participate in a “Storytellers” competition in which they work with a high school faculty advisor in an awareness campaign and raise funds for TWLOHA at the same time.

This sort of individual activity is vital to the message of TWLOHA.

“Our organization was born from trying to help one person and trying to tell one story,” says founder, Jaime Tworkowski. “We exist because people began to spread the word, began to share the story. People asked for help and people asked how they could help. So at this point, nearly eight years later, it’s simply part of our DNA to see the value of individuals breaking the silence. No matter how ‘big’ TWLOHA gets in terms of reach or growth, it will always be about the individual. Our message of hope and help is for individuals, and we’ve been able to do this work for eight years because of the support of individuals.”

Faces and Voices of Recovery

Faces & Voices of Recovery was founded in 2001 in St. Paul, Minnesota, by a diverse group of professionals who all had a stake in the recovery movement. Some were legislators, some were medical professionals and some had dealt with addictions on a personal level.

All wanted to help demonstrate that people can, and do, recover from addictions, and that those who do come from all walks of life.

It’s an important message, as some people believe that people who have addictions are simply doomed to lose their lives to the use and abuse of substances. Others believe that addictions only strike certain types of people and that not everyone could fall prey to the use of drugs. These are the sorts of myths that can keep addicted people trapped in their habits, and these are the biases that can keep families wrapped in a mantle of shame that prevents forward movement.

Faces & Voices of Recovery has done a significant amount of work in spreading the message of hope and recovery, and recently, the group released a movie, The Anonymous People, in which a number of well-known public figures discussed their private stories about addiction and recovery.

“Over 50,000 people have seen The Anonymous People since its release in a grassroots community screening campaign began in 2013,” says Pat Taylor, CEO of Faces & Voices of Recovery. But the hard work isn’t over yet.

“We have launched a new campaign [ManyFaces1Voice] in partnership with the filmmaker Greg Williams, to engage and mobilize the newly emerging constituency to transform public attitudes and policies affecting people seeking or in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Whether behind the scenes or on the front line, every recovery voice is needed,” she says.

Gearing Up

While accessing the help of family and friends, and learning more about others who have recovered, are well-known paths to healing for many people with addictions, sometimes, a more innovative approach is needed in order to really make a difference.

After all, people who have addictions often struggle with deep, lasting difficulties involving:

  • Self-worth
  • Motivation
  • Friendships
  • Setting goals
  • Following rules

The founders of the nonprofit Gearing Up could have written books, developed webinars and otherwise relied on standardized methods in order to help people to heal. But instead, the group focused on something completely different.

Gearing Up provides women in recovery with lessons in biking and bike repair. Through this program, women learn more about how to incorporate biking into their everyday lives, but they also learn more about how to repair a broken bike and how to ride a bike safely on streets that can be somewhat crowded and treacherous. At the end of the program, women who have successfully stayed sober and pedaled 100 miles can earn their own bike and maintenance kit.

It might sound like an odd fit, but the administrators of Gearing Up suggest that it’s a model that makes sense.

“Cycling is a passion that our founder/executive director and I have in common,” says Kaelin Proud, program director of Gearing Up.

“We’ve seen the positive change that being physically active can bring to anyone and we wanted to share that with women in recovery in Philadelphia through the power of a bicycle!”Founder Kristin Gavin agrees. “Gearing Up empowers women in transition via cycling, an activity, by nature, that allows people to experience freedom and a sense of connection with their surroundings, both incredibly important to individuals in recovery and re-entering society post-incarcerations,” she says.

Legal Action Center

When addiction treatment goes as planned and the person is restored to sobriety, that person should technically be ready to enter society and become a safe and productive member of any community, anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, many people who do have a history of addiction struggle to get good jobs or safe housing due to the discrimination they face from authority figures and members of the community.

It’s a tough problem, and the founders of the Legal Action Center have been fighting against it for four decades. Here, people who struggle with some kind of discrimination can get the legal assistance they need, and the group works hard to advocate for legislative changes and sound public policies that could prevent such discrimination in the future.

Much of the work done by this organization is, understandably, sensitive and private. But it’s the sort of work that people with addictions desperately need. Even though studies suggest that one person in 10 in the United States is in recovery from some sort of addiction, discrimination remains a common and devastating problem.

“Unfortunately, there is still a tremendous amount of stigma against people with substance use disorders. Many people still see addiction as a failure of will and do not understand that it is a treatable disease,” says Sally Friedman, Legal Director. “There are laws that prohibit this type of discrimination, and people are encouraged to learn more about their rights and how to enforce them.”

The Legal Action Center has produced a booklet on the topic, and it’s available on the organization’s website. Friedman suggests that the document should be a part of the reading list for everyone in recovery.

We’re proud to honor all of these fine nonprofit organizations as they work on behalf of those who have addictions and the families that support those addicted people. We hope they’ll continue their work, and that they’ll inspire you as you deal with the addiction impacting your life. Clearly, you’re not alone in the struggle.

If you’d like to talk about options for addiction treatment for you or your loved one, please call us at 760.548.4032. Our admissions coordinators can help you find the best option for your situation.

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