Sara Learner [Prevention and Wellness Educator] discusses her work of teaching in elementary schools and conducting community-based events on the Project HELP Team 

How long have you been working at the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW) and how did you first start working here? 

I just started at the beginning of September and I came to CRW after completing my Master’s in social work in May. I was in St. Louis at Wash U in St. Louis for my Master’s degree. And then I was looking to come to New York to be in this city where a lot of my family is, and was really excited to move for this opportunity at CRW. 

How have you been finding your new role so far? 

It’s been really great although it’s been an adjustment to be partially working from home and partially in person. I’m not used to working remotely at all and we definitely have to adjust a lot of our programs to be in a virtual format, so that has been challenging but also interesting and a growth opportunity as we learn to navigate a new virtual world. We’ve recently done communitybased events where we’re tabling and doing Narcan trainings, typically on days where the food pantry is happening. That’s been really rewarding to be able to be out in person explaining what our services are and often providing people with Narcan kits, that’s been really great experience. 

What else has been challenging or fulfilling?  

We teach in the schools and so to run an elementary school class with just six students, you can’t have circle time, you can’t sit on the floor with them, you can’t have them running around, because they have to maintain that six feet of distance. So that’s also been really challenging to adjust games and activities that you’d play with Kindergarteners through 2nd graders to games where they have to stay within their square, they have to stay distance, and they can’t be active and moving around, so it’s been challenging to transform games to being able to keep them in their in their squares safely apart as well. 

Are you working on anything specific in your prevention work that you think would be worth sharing out of the norm? 

One thing we’re hoping to do is create a greater relationship with the community police force. That involves having them come to our tabling eventsNarcan events, and outreach events to get to know the neighborhood, get to know the neighbors, so I think that that’s something that has a lot of potential. The local precincts have prescription drop off boxes, safe disposal boxes, and so that’s one thing that we’re hoping to spread awareness about. If you have extra prescription drugs lying around at home, you can walk to the precinct, no questions asked and get rid of your medications in a safe way. So that’s something I’m really excited about, creating those connections with local police officers and having them more involved with some of the work we’re doing and with the community that surrounds us. 

What do you think people should know about Project HELP that have never heard of it before or just think that it’s telling kids not to do drugs? 

When you’re looking at working with kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders, which is the classes that I’ve had so far, you’re not really telling them don’t do drugs and don’t drink alcohol because they’re so young. It’s mainly about how to make safe and healthy choices, how to build positive relationships, and how to be good community member. So it’s all of these things that can down the road, impact their choices that they make surrounding drugs and alcohol. But right now, we’re really focusing on how they can grow as individuals and as community members so it’s a lot of work surrounding that and information surrounding healthy choices and behavior. We talk a lot about listening skills, how to be an active listener, so it’s a lot more than just don’t drink, don’t do drugs. It’s about how to make healthy and safe choices and empowering them to do that. 

Is there anyone that you want to give a shout out for any reason? 

Yeahthe team that’s welcomed me has been really great in aiding my transition. It’s really tricky to meet people mostly virtually. But getting to know Sela Grabiner [Prevention and Wellness Coordinator] Pedro Cordero [Health Coordinator], and Hillary Hooke [Prevention and Wellness Educator] as a team has been amazing. Their support has been constant and guiding. Whether it’s like joking with Pedro at tabling events and hearing his long years of wisdom, about not just the job, but also he knows so much about the communityI’ve learned so much from just talking to Pedro about how he reads people, how he knows how to talk to people, and when people are going to be accepting when people need to be pushed, and when it’s time to back down. I’ve never seen somebody read people as good as Pedro does. And Sela’s support as my supervisor as well has been really incredible in this transition. 

Is there anything else you want to share as a closing thought? 

I’m young in this organization, it’s been really great so far, but I’m really new, so I’m still excited about all the potential as I learn more about my role and the organization about what my role and what my impact can be. So I feel like I’m I’ve gotten excited kind of diving into it, but I’m excited to see now where it can go from here.