"I was very concerned about our future leaders and where they would be without a solid foundation," Burson says.
That's when she started working with the Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program (UMADAOP).
"Thus a preventionist was born," she says.
Today she's executive director of UMADAOP of Cincinnati, a substance abuse prevention program. Staff members help promote abstinence and deter the onset of addiction. The agency addresses the cultural dynamics of a group during the education and recovery process.
In this instance, the target group is under-served citizens.
"Sometimes service providers simply aren't aware of the need or are unable to help due to funding restraints," Burson says.
UMADAOP reaches out to African-American and Hispanic-American members of the community by assisting youth, families and communities in developing healthy lifestyle choices.
UMADAOP was established in 1980 as a result of legislation introduced by former House Majority Leader William Mallory.
"From inception we were designed to fill a need and serve a segment of the population the community did not address effectively," Burson says. "We are unwilling and unable to deny anyone service."
Despite this commitment to never turn anyone away, there are people UMADAOP is unable to help due to a limited budget. Much of the agency's funding comes from the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services and the Hamilton County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board.
Along with funding issues, the program faces other boundaries. UMADAOP is not a treatment facility; its focus is on prevention.
"If we cannot help someone, we will do our best to locate an agency that can assist them," Burson says.
The programs are led by staff members with a variety of personal and professional expertise. Social workers, teachers and counselors all work for UMADAOP. Anyone without one of these professional degrees is required to earn certification in counseling or prevention from the Ohio Credentialing Board.
One of the programs, Too Young To Be High, enhances self-awareness, self-esteem and resiliency in youth. Another one, Circle of Recovery Ohio, is a community-based re-entry program for paroled offenders, operating in the form of a support group.
Leedaman, who asked that his stage name be used, is a 32-year-old native of Roselawn. He joined Circle of Recovery Ohio in February with a desire to get back on his feet and do something good for his community.
Circle of Recovery Ohio participants are referred by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, but attendance is voluntary.
"I went because I wanted to talk about what's for real," Leedaman says. "I wanted to help people."
The support he received gave him the power to start his own record label, Solitaire Rock Records.
"My music is conscious Rap and street language," he says.
Leedaman speaks directly to those who are struggling with the obstacles he's already overcome. He's thinking about traveling with UMADAOP to juvenile detention facilities to speak with prisoners.
UMADAOP's prevention programs --Too Young To Be High, Ladies First and Brother-to-Brother Group Mentoring -- teach the young participants to be more aware of the choices to use drugs. Participants should leave with increased "protective factors" for handling real life, Burson says. This includes an understanding of why substances are harmful to them.
"We have seen some of the most misunderstood and rowdy children come into our programs and leave with new skills and insight," Burson says.
From research done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UMADAOP has been able to assess the problems facing the young. Twenty-seven percent of youths perceive drug selling in their neighborhoods, according to NIH. African Americans and Hispanics more often perceive crime and drug dealing than Asians or Caucasians.
Burson says UMADAOP wants to offer a loving environment in which children and adults can grow and foster their creativity through positive examples.
"My experiences have taught me the true meaning of following your heart, understanding diversity and what it means to be a part of the community," she says.
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