Building Stronger Bonds

by Naomi DeSantis

In the early morning hours of May 3, 2023, I grabbed my coffee and set out on my hour-and-a-half drive to Rhode Island. Although I have had the opportunity to come together with some of my colleagues to do outreach during community events and to run races with Team Herren Project, this was my first opportunity to be with the entire team. I consider them to be much more than co-workers; they truly have become like family. We did have two who could not attend, and Rebecca and Dimitri were missed by all! I was so excited about this opportunity. Working from home can be very isolating, and I had formed connections with these amazing humans over Zoom, so I knew seeing them in person would be like running into old friends!  

Our first day was spent learning the ins and outs of fundraising, getting to know one another, and seeing the impact numbers showing how much Herren Project has grown over the past few years. There were so many key statistics but the most remarkable one was that Herren Project has raised over $12 million dollars since 2011! All of that comes from private donations, which is truly incredible. Our Director of Active Engagement, Pam Rickard, does a tremendous job organizing all of the races for Team Herren Project, which brings in a large amount of funding through peer-to-peer fundraising. We have engaged more than 24,000 donors since 2014, and a significant number of those donors have also contributed to our larger fundraising campaigns, such as Giving Tuesday, year-end appeals, and memorials. We also learned a lot about what each part of our team does throughout their daily work with Herren Project. It’s incredible what our small team has accomplished.

Our marketing team does outstanding work in helping get the word out about fundraising opportunities, our community events, and special days of recognition as well as recognizing the youth and advisors in our schools who are participating in our Herren Project Clubs and those who have received our scholarship and grants awards. The work they do to bring awareness to all areas of Herren Project is indelible.  

Our treatment team works day in and day out to walk with people to advocate for those starting their journeys and provide as many recovery scholarships as they are able. They truly embody Herren Project’s mission and provide positive, healthy outlets for sharing experience, strength, hope, and ways to give back. We have seen a drastic increase in the need for individual and family support since 2011. It is through the help of our community that the treatment team is able to tackle each and every inquiry to the best of their ability. They, along with those who run our support groups and our recovery coaches, have created a wonderful community of shared healing.  

I cannot forget to mention our Prevention Team. Through community events, partnerships, and the over 300 Herren Project Clubs currently active nationwide (including one in Canada and the United Kingdom) we are spreading the message of the importance of being yourself, knowing you are enough as you are, and that it is ok not to engage in the same harmful behaviors some of your peers may be engaging in. Prevention work plays a key part in what we do as we are hopeful that the wider this message is spread, the less likely our youth will be tempted to misuse substances.  

We have also built a strong community through our Herren Project and Herren Beyouth social channels. We also have private facebook pages for Team Herren Project, Schools and Communities, Alumni, and Family Support. All groups have a large following on social media and help us spread our mission statement across the globe. Team Herren Project has created a wildly successful community of runners who come from all over to run the races that raise money for Herren Project and in doing so, they are also helping to spread the mission of Herren Project. Our Herren Project Adult Ambassador Program was born out of Team Herren Project and is yet another way our community continues to grow, as well as our Youth Ambassadors.

I think my team would agree that the most powerful part of our time spent together was the team-building activities we participated in with a company called Half Full. Their website states their mission is “to help teams and individuals overcome obstacles in the way of moving forward.” Three of their team members came in and led us through a day full of team-building activities specifically curated for our team. Some of the favorites were “Communication Pictionary” and “Lunch Dates” designed to challenge our communication skills and deepen team bonding. (Thank you to the folks at Half Full for sharing these meaningful exercises with us!)  We laughed, we cried, we may have forgotten how to draw shapes (a little inside joke there), but most importantly, we were given the opportunity to learn things about each other that we may not have known before. It was an incredibly moving experience for me personally, as well as my team.

“Community and connection are key to everything we do in our work of providing support for the recovery and prevention of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Community and connection are at the forefront of recovery. It is important to put these elements and the principles of recovery into action starting at our core. It is not just something we can just talk about but something we make part of our company culture.  

Every member of our team is dedicated to the mission and to every person we serve. It is a tough job. Especially during the last few years, with more people than ever struggling, it is easy to get burned out, leaving our glass half empty. But thankfully, Half Full’s amazing team helped our team fill our glass again to be Half Full. They really listened to me explain what our strengths and challenges were as a team and brought a full day of team-building activities that did exactly what we needed.” Bonnie Sawyer, Executive Director  

Half Full LLC

Staff Reflections

“I am grateful for the full-day session to recharge and renew the strength of our incredible Herren Project team. I have always said this is one of the best groups of people I have ever been fortunate to work with, and I am more sure of that than ever.” – Bonnie Sawyer, Executive Director  

It is hard for me to describe the impact that our recent team-building event had on me.  I believe it was more personally rewarding than professionally.  Working remotely comes with the challenge of not being able to fully connect with other staff members.  The two days spent together allowed me to connect with my coworkers on a whole new level and forge stronger relationships with them.  It also allowed me to fully understand what each section of the staff does and how I can better work with them in support of the mission.  For me, seeing what a small staff does “by the numbers” was extremely powerful and allows me to more clearly explain what Herren Project does.” – Sean MacMillen, Community Engagement Coordinator 

“The time we spent together as a team was the best experience that I’ve had working anywhere. Although we are very open with each other in our remote meetings, the time we spent together in person helped us to bond like a family. I love and appreciate my team and wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else.” – Sam Rapp, Information Systems Manager  

“I loved it! I am such an introvert, so I was a little bit nervous going into it but after I was so thankful that we did something like that. I don’t really work alongside anyone, I really just kind of do my own thing work-wise, so it was so nice to be able to see everyone in the flesh and connect with everyone! It made me feel so much more comfortable speaking in front of everybody and talking to people I normally wouldn’t speak to on a daily basis.” – Victoria Remsen, Executive Assistant 

“I felt so connected to my fellow coworkers after the team event. I walked away with so much respect for every single one of them, and so much pride in the work we do at HP. I love this organization and all of the very special people that work alongside me.” – Kristin Young, Director of Clinical Services  

Overall, I think I can speak for the team when I say it was a very powerful two days that truly bonded us together and brought to light how much we are all dedicated to the mission of Herren Project, which is to help individuals and families of all ages to live healthy, fulfilling lives by preventing substance misuse, celebrating recovery, and creating resilient communities. 

Herren Project team photo Herren Project Group Hug