Sunset Park drug counseling center expanding its mission

Donna Mae DePola (seated) and Dona Pagan are two of the friendly faces recovering drug addicts and alcoholics will find at The Resource Training and Counseling Center in Sunset Park. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

Will train people how to use overdose antidote

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Donna Mae DePola is a busy woman who's about to get a lot busier.

DePola is the president and CEO of The Recovery & Life Coaching Academy, a non-profit Sunset Park-based drug and alcohol counseling center she founded 20 years ago to help addicts and alcoholics get off drugs and drink, reclaim their lives and move forward.

The center, headquartered in a five-story brick building at 449 39th St. in Sunset Park, has 22 employees and offers a wide variety of services, including substance abuse assessments, outpatient chemical dependency treatment, outpatient detox, counseling, medication management, programs to combat DWI, sessions with volunteer recovery coaches and help in becoming employment-ready.

The center is about to embark on a new venture: the Drug Overdose Awareness Program, which DePola calls the DOA Program. Under the program, the center will train people how to recognize the signs of a drug overdose and how to administer Naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of the overdosed drug.

“It’s a nasal spray. The drug has been around for a long time. It used to be a needle, but a lot of people don’t want to give someone a needle. I think a nasal spray is better,” DePola, 64, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

The training is free and is available to health care providers and to parents and friends of people who have had problems with prescription drug use.

DePola, who was born and raised in Sunset Park, said she’s proud of the work done at the center.

“People from all over come here,” DePola told the Eagle during an interview in her fifth floor office on Tuesday. “We have treatment on demand, meaning that you can walk in here off the street and we start getting you the help that you need immediately.” 

DePola’s right hand person is Dona Pagan, the center’s vice president and COO. The two women, who met on the job, are life partners. “She’s the glue that holds everything in this place together. I couldn’t run this place without her,” DePola said.

Eighty-five percent of the people who walk in the center’s front door are coming voluntarily because they want to straighten out their lives, while 15 percent have been ordered to go there by the court to seek counseling and treatment following a DWI or drug conviction.

The center offers a Drug Consequence Awareness Panel (DrugCAP), a one-time, two-hour class required by the court in which young people who have suffered substance abuse and family members of people who have died of drug overdoses share their knowledge and their experiences about the devastating effects of drug use.

The center also trains people to become drug and alcohol counselors.

There is another feature of the center that DePola, a former drug user herself, insists on. “We call the people we’re helping customers, not clients,” she said. “We treat them with respect, just the way a store treats its customers with respect.”

DePola knows what it is to be caught in the nightmare of drug use. “I used drugs from the time I was nine until the time I was 35,” she said.

When she stopped using drugs, she decided to help others.

She did not get a lot of encouragement. But she had a defiant streak that propelled her forward.

“When I said I wanted to open a counseling center, people told me I couldn’t do it. When anyone tells me ‘No’ to something, I will either do it, or find someone who will do it,” she said.

In addition to her work at the center, DePola also finds time for neighborhood activism. She is a member of Community Board Seven in Sunset Park.

The motto of the Resource Training and Counseling Center is “Hope starts here” and in nearly every room, there is a poster with a positive, life-affirming message written on it, such as “Don’t talk to me about the past. I don’t live there anymore,” and “Keep going, you are getting there.”

For more information on the center, call 718-871-7433.



April 9, 2014 - 12:30pm



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