Oct. 28, 2021

Meeting The Challenges of Substance Abuse – Employers Can Make a Difference – with Greg McFarland [Ep.94]

Meeting The Challenges of Substance Abuse – Employers Can Make a Difference – with Greg McFarland [Ep.94]

We all know at least one person who struggles with substance abuse issues. We have seen the heartbreak and devastation that occurs when someone’s life spirals downward and out of control due to reliance on addictive substances. Lives are shattered,...

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We all know at least one person who struggles with substance abuse issues. We have seen the heartbreak and devastation that occurs when someone’s life spirals downward and out of control due to reliance on addictive substances. Lives are shattered, hearts are broken, and families, businesses, and communities feel the ripple effects and pain. Addiction takes a heavy toll on everyone it touches. Linda’s guest, Greg McFarland, serves as the Executive Director for Philadelphia Adult & Teen Challenge, a residential discipleship program for individuals struggling with substance abuse. He shares his own substance abuse journey, the foundational keys to his successful recovery, and his thoughts and recommendations regarding government and workplace policies that can help to end the cycle of addiction.  He also shares inspirational examples and tips for employers who desire to help employees overcome addiction. 

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Linda: Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen, your host, and the author of Prosperity 101 - Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, and the Creator of the Breakroom Economics Online Course. The book, the course and the entire podcast library can be found on prosperity101.com. I seek to connect Boardroom to Breakroom and Policy to Paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs.

My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement and retention, and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society. Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit prosperity101.com. Thank you for joining with me today. I have a special guest today. His name is Greg McFarland.

Greg is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Adult and Teen Challenge. It is a residential discipleship program for individuals struggling with substance abuse. Greg is a licensed professional counselor and he is certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor. I've known Greg since he was very young, in fact, I think since he was born, and it is just a pleasure to have him on the broadcast today, and I'm so grateful for his leadership and his story. I know you will appreciate listening to it, so thank you for joining with us, Greg.

Greg: Thank you for having me. It's such a blessing to be a part of this podcast and to be able to share a little bit about myself and some thoughts about what's going on, what the program does and how it helps individuals. I'm going to give you a little background on myself. I started at an early age in drugs and alcohol, and it is eventually how I got involved with Adult and Teen Challenge. Actually started in Milwaukee with Adult and Teen Challenge at the Great Lakes, but from an early age, I think I was 12 years old, I started smoking weed, drinking alcohol, running the streets.

I dropped out of school in sixth grade and just ended up like most people in addiction, in prison. I ended up doing three years, one in county jail and two in prison. I dropped out of school in sixth grade, but I got my GED while I was in jail. Then, upon getting out of prison, my parents worked with me to get me into Adult and Teen Challenge at the Great Lakes, their men's program in Milwaukee, and so I started there. That is where I met the Lord and surrendered my life to Him.

That is where I began a foundation in discipleship, and really a foundation in a new way of living. They equipped me with everything I needed to be able to go on to a new life. I learned life disciplines, I learned life skills, I learned how to plan and prepare for a future, and so I went through four months at the Great Lakes Adult and Teen Challenge in Milwaukee, and then I went to Pennsylvania where I finished the program. After finishing the program there, I started college, and because I only had a sixth grade education with a GED, I had to start in a small, part-time satellite campus of a school, and because I was able to get about 18 credits there, I was able to transfer into Liberty University for a bachelor's degree in psychology, so I went to Liberty University, got my bachelor's of science in psychology, completed that, and following my bachelor's in psychology, went on to a master's in professional counseling. During my time in college, I went back to Adult and Teen Challenge at Pennsylvania to work as a counselor.

I met my wife, who we've now been married for 10 years and have three wonderful children, and I've been serving at Adult and Teen Challenge of Pennsylvania since 2011, and in 2019, they asked me to be the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Center, and so I've been serving there since 2019 as the Executive Director.

Linda: Well, it is just such an amazing story. For our listeners, I just want to share, I mentioned that I've known you basically since you were born. We lived in the same small town in Wisconsin, and you went to my church, and for many years I taught you on Wednesday night. I've had another guest on the podcast, Joe Delagrave, who is a paralympic athlete with the U.S. Olympic Paralympic Program. He's been a captain of the Paralympic Rugby team and just recently was silver medalist with that, and he also grew up with you and coming to class with me on Wednesday nights and Bible quizzing with my kids and things, so it was great to watch you grow up and be close to your family, but also to see how the Lord has worked. I mean, we all can go through ups and downs in life.

As I think about prayers, that I have prayed for you and for others that we knew back then, and to see how the Lord brings these things full circle and answers those prayers and helps to change lives and use everything that is in the patchwork of our lives to create a beautiful tapestry. For anyone listening, I hope Greg's story really speaks to you about your own life, that the Lord can take anything and anyone and use all those circumstances and use those individuals for good, and really create beauty out of ashes in a way. How does that all apply to a podcast that's related to policy or issues of the day? Well, keep listening because there's a lot that applies here. Greg and I have talked about his role as Executive Director of Teen Challenge in Philadelphia, and I've asked him what types of policies either help or hurt his ability to do his job, but also what types of policies are helpful to the individuals who come through the Teen Challenge program, so where would you like to start with that, Greg?

Greg: I can start with one of the big things that really helps is affording to run a nonprofit program. When you look at nonprofits, the money really comes from individuals who are willing to donate, so Adult and Teen Challenge, when I went through the Great Lakes Adult and Teen Challenge program, I didn't pay for myself to go through. My parents paid an induction fee, which really just covered the cost of maybe the first couple days of the program, but didn't cover the entire program, but one of the great things about a 501(c)(3) is that individuals that support that are really funding the program. They're really making it possible for someone like myself who could never afford a program like that to pay out of pocket. If I had to pay for the full cost of me to be there, is that there are policies in price.

There's things that, tax write-offs and things like that for people who support nonprofits. That's one of those policies that are in place and kind of been consistently there, and if those things go away and there's no incentive to give, that can make it very challenging for a nonprofit to continue to do what they've done all these years because of the benefit to the individual who's giving to that nonprofit. I think that's one thing. The other thing was the impact of student loans and of what made it possible for me to go through the program. We started the conversation just kind of discussing what made it possible for me to get to the place I'm at today, and if you look at federal student loans, federal student aid and stuff like that, all of that stuff is there and available for someone like myself, who when I graduated the program, I was just starting off in a brand new job.

I was just starting off in Pennsylvania, which I had never lived there before. I didn't have family support. I had very little income, so I really had to rely on those student loans to get me through college, and so as I was going through this process, I was beginning to accrue this debt, and I was beginning to accrue all of these different things. I was looking at this debt like, "Okay, what am I going to do? I know I'm supposed to go to school."

"I know I'm supposed to get this education. How am I going to pay this back?," and a time came when it was time to go back and serve at Teen Challenge. I had spoken with my counselor there. He invited me to a job interview and asked me to put in my resume, and so I agreed to do that. I was like, "Okay. How am I going to take this job at a very low salary while I have all this debt collecting?," and it was almost like I wasn't going to be able to do it.

What made it possible is that within the provisions of the government for student loans and student debt and stuff like that is income-driven repayment, which means that because I'm working for a very low salary, they're going to make me repay my loans based on my income and my financial capability. What that made it possible for me to do is that with the extent of all my loans and stuff like that, I was able to then pay back based on how much I made. Another thing they had in there is that if you worked for a nonprofit organization for 10 years, then your loans could be forgiven. That can be a very challenging thing for someone who may have went for a degree and made enough money where they were required to pay back their loans. It can be like, "Well, how's he getting it forgiven?," but this is the math that we talked about, is that I went through a program.

Prior to going through that program, I spent three years in prison out of the 24 years I was alive, so if you take someone who stays in addiction for 75 years, and for 25 years of my life, I spent three years in prison, so let's say over the course of 75 years, I spend nine years in prison, so that's just kind of basing that off of the way that my life worked beyond that. If each year in prison costed $15,000, that means society's going to pay for me to spend nine times $15,000, which is close to $150,000 just to keep me in prison. Not only that, but I'm barely working while I'm in the midst of my addiction, so I'm not contributing to society. However, if you look at the flip side of that, I go through this program, I change my life, and then I go back to being a fully part of the society, part of the community. I'm giving back, I'm paying my taxes, I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, and I'm abiding by the law.

Now, not only am I no longer taking from society, I'm no longer taking from a portion of taxes, I'm giving back, and I'm supporting, and I'm playing a role in that. Well, that's not possible without programs like this, but the other part of that is that I'm excelling in the field of helping people, so not only am I giving back in society in the way of working and paying taxes and continuing to be a productive member of society, but now I'm learning because I have a master's in professional counseling and I'm a licensed professional counselor. Now, I'm working with people in mental health. Now, I'm working with people in addiction. Now, I'm working with people in the Adult and Teen Challenge program, teaching them a new way to live, discipling them, introducing them to the Lord and seeing them go on to a new life.

That's then expanding what I do. For that Loan Forgiveness program, for them offering that for people who are in a 501(c)(3), they're working at a lower income rate because 501(c)(3) is based on donations, have to find ways to work on a low budget, and many times those ways fall on the staff, they fall on the people volunteering and being willing to be a part of that, but then having that Loan Forgiveness at the end of it is really ... You look at if I was to help just 20 people, 20 people like me, I've paid back my loans in school debt by helping those people get their life on track and helping introduce them to the Lord 10 times or more just in helping those individuals. When I look at that, I disagree with the government being involved in college as a whole. I think my degree would've been a whole lot cheaper if student loans didn't exist at all.

I think it would've been affordable, but because of the system we have to date, and that's kind of a pipe dream in and of itself, I really love that they have that, because it makes someone like me who had to start ... I forget my very first salary, but it was just above minimum wage. Looking at a bachelor's degree, and then a master's degree in student debt, and anyone who has that knows it's an excessive amount, this program, helping me get these loans forgiven after 10 years is an incredible reward. I don't have to live in fear of my retirement every day that I go to work at a nonprofit. I don't have to live in fear of, "How am I going to afford to live if they ever call back on my loans or if they ever do this or that because of this possibility of forgiveness?"

If that did not exist, if Loan Forgiveness did not exist and income-driven repayment did not exist, I would not be able to do what I do. Outside of some special scholarship or someone donating money specifically to pay back my loans or something like that, I would not be able to do what I do. I'd have to go find the highest paying job possible and begin dumping the first 10 years of my salary back into my student loans, which I know some people are stuck doing, and I wish there was a better way, and I think the better way would obviously be for the government not to be involved in student loans at all, but with it being said, these specific policies have not only helped me, but have helped many other people who work in the same circles of nonprofits that I'm in currently.

Linda: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You bring up some very good points. As I'm thinking about this, you talked about benefits to those who give to nonprofits and to donors who really support your work and the work of Teen Challenge and other nonprofits like it, and then we're talking about these Loan Forgiveness programs for people that are in positions such as yourself. None of that can be possible without a capitalist system where businesses can earn income, businesses can make a profit, they can pay employees, they can pay the business owners, whatever, who then in turn can donate out of their abundance in order to give to these programs. If we lose a capitalist society in America, if we lose this free enterprise system where people are allowed to make profits and they are allowed to give to causes they so choose, we lose programs like Teen Challenge.

We lose orphanages, churches, hospitals, so many places that are built to help people, and they're built out of people's generosity, and they're built because they lived in a country that allowed them to create wealth and to give wealth without penalty, and so we are able to help one another out of our abundance, and that's really, I think one of the beauties of America, and we've been able to send people like you all over the world. America has been the most giving nation not only, I think from a government standpoint, but also individual, individual standpoint where donors and philanthropists have given from their own abundance to help benefit the lives of others.

Greg: Yeah, and it's really ... I'll brag on the success rate nationally. I believe the success rate right now of Teen Challenge's is between 75 and 85%. I forget the exact statistic off the top of my head.

Linda: That's amazing. That's really wonderful.

Greg: Mm-hmm (affirmative), but if anybody follows addiction and follows success rates, that's an incredible success rate for three out of four to go on to a life of success not only from addiction, but also in the Lord. To continue walking in relationship with God and to have a faithful walk with the Lord is incredible. It's absolutely incredible, but that's the type of service you get from 501(c)(3). That's the type of service you get when everybody in that group or in that program ... Like even, we're here with Great Lakes Adult and Teen Challenge right now, visiting and being a part of their banquet, and I get to walk through and talk to the guys and the ladies in the program and hearing the transformation of the life, hearing what has happened in them, and in the back of my mind, because I've worked as a Director now for a year and a half, I'm thinking about the budget.

I'm thinking about the guys and the gals that have donated to make that possible, and I know that that investment is doing far more than the other hand of what I've seen where I've went to government programs, and I've went to programs that are fully funded by the government where they take that money, and then they give it, and then they try to put all these rules and all these different ways of doing it and require all these stuff. Many programs that are funded fully by the government that don't have the Lord involved, that aren't supported by donations, that aren't ran by people who have that calling, that specific goal of serving people have about 11% success rate, and so when you're comparing success rates, it's incredible to see what happens when ... This is what a capitalist society really provides, is motivation, motivation, competition, the ability to follow the calling and trust that other people are going to be able to support your calling out of their abundance, and it truly is incredible.

Linda: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Well, and that's one of the benefits of freedom.

Greg: Yeah.

Linda: We have always had that free enterprise and the freedom to make money, the American dream, in a sense, that people come from around the world to participate in, but we've always had religious freedom and freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and these are things that ... Actually, right now, in our society right now are under threat, and there are many people, some who run other types of 501(c)(3)s and some who are in government positions are really trying to destroy that, but we can see from the success rate that you mentioned and the beauty that comes from Transform Lives, that we need to keep policies that enable this type of success rate, and so as listeners and, I think of employers listening now, employers, if you have people who are struggling with substance abuse, I'm always talking to employers about the policies that impact paychecks. Well, if you can have some sort of incentive program potentially or maybe some sort of donation program or something for many of your employees who might need to spend time going through an Adult or Teen Challenge program, I mean, what a gift you would be giving them. This is a gift that lasts into eternity.

Greg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Linda: Employers, you can step up what types of employers or employee, things like ... Just noticing this banquet, I'm looking at all the donations, the donations for the silent auction, there's so many ways that businesses can be involved in helping to support their employees and others through ministries like this.

Greg: Well, there's really two things. One is speaking about your employees. One of the things ... You may have someone on your staff who needs the help, who needs that support, and you have an immense amount of strength and of participation in that, in that you can tell those individuals, "Listen, you need to go to this program. You're not going to have a job if you don't go to this program."

"You're struggling. I'll hold your position. Whatever it is, you got to go to this program." I have been in the program with so many people who have finished and gone to a new life, and even ended up being promoted after they got out because they were so much different and they were there because their boss said, "Enough is enough. You got to go to this program."

"I'm not going to let you continue to use and create a hazard on the job or whatever it is." The other part of that is just donations, support. If you want to reach out to Great Lakes Adult and Teen Challenge, you just say, "Hey, how can we support?" It may be financial support, it may be donations. It may just be putting a card on your desk or something if you deal with a lot of individuals because, I think it's right now one in four of people know somebody in addiction, so out of all the people listening to this podcast, there may be 100 out there right now that have someone on their mind that's like, "I wish they could go to this program," and for me, my dad heard about it from someone else who heard about it from their nephew who went through the program, and it eventually came back to me just by word of mouth, and my life is transformed because of it.

That might be the same for you and individuals like yourself and the people supporting this banquet, all made it possible for me to go through the program, and I didn't pay. My parents paid an induction fee, and then they donated what they could when they could, but because of that support, it made it a reality for us.

Linda: That's really great, talking about employers, investing in the lives of their employees. I've always told employers that your employees will listen, whether it's a policy topic or whether it's something about their own personal life and substance abuse. If they know the employer actually cares about them as a person, it makes such a difference. We have an opportunity as employers to be leaders, and we have to decide what type of leader we're going to be. Will we pour into the lives of the people we lead with positivity and faith and opportunity, and believing in them that they can reach their fullest potential, or will we just look at them as a way to make a dollar?

Only one life soon will pass. Only what's done for Christ will last, so yeah. If people want to reach you, Greg, how would they do so?

Greg: They could reach me, I think the best way would just be directly through my email. I'd be happy to share my email if you'd like to reach out to me directly. That would be totally fine. My email is gmcfarland@paatc.org, so that's G-M-C-F as in Frank, A-R-L-A-N-D@P as in Paul, A as in alpha, A as in alpha, T as in Tom, C as in Charlie.org. If you have any questions or wanted to reach out to me about any of the information that we've been talking about, I'd be happy to speak about and shoot an email back with you and start this dialogue, especially if it has to do with working with employees and what to do in those situations, because it can be challenging and like leadership.

As leaders, we have a great impact in the staff under us, and sometimes it's hard to let a staff go for a season. I have a staff of about 15 people, and sometimes it's hard to let them go for the things that they need to take care of, but I assure you, when they come back transformed, it'll be worth every penny. I know a guy named Brian, and he's one of the specific people I'm thinking about, whose boss said, "You're going to this program or you don't have a job tomorrow," and so he said, "Okay, give me just five days and I'll go into the program," and he stayed true to his word. Five later, he got into the program, finished out the year, came back, now, he's a foreman with his boss. He's teaching classes with his boss, and he's also gotten nine people into the program from the company who he knew had addiction from when he was addiction and he was able to work specifically with them, and many of them have gone on to a transformed life.

He's reunited with his family and his children who all left him in the midst of his addiction, and he has an entirely new life all because his boss was willing to stand strong and say, "You need to do this, and I'm not taking no for an answer." It's really incredible, and I've gotten to see many stories like that.

Linda: Oh, that is just so inspiring. It makes me think of the scriptural principle of how one plants, one waters, one harvest, and I think about like watching you grow up and watching your teen years and being concerned often, but always being able to pour into your life through those classes on Wednesday night and things we did at church, but also just being friends with your family and your siblings and just doing that, but then as life goes on, other people were pouring into your life as you ... Even when you went through really hard times, the Lord was continuing to open the doors and pouring into your life, and so we never know. Whether you're an employer, an employee, a parent, a child, it doesn't matter. I'm sure anyone listening right now can think of at least one person that you could possibly help by sharing this podcast episode or just sharing, emailing Greg, getting more information about the Adult and Teen Challenge program, just suggesting it, giving them the opportunity to change their life, so thank you, Greg again with the Philadelphia Adult and Teen Challenge and Greg McFarland. Feel free to contact him.

You can always reach out to me at prosperity101.com, and if you need to get in touch with Greg, I'll be sure to connect you, but if you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, now is the time. We need you to be healthy. Your family needs you. You need to be able to experience the fullest life that God created for you, and there's people who can help you, so yeah, so thank you, Greg.

Greg: All right, thank you. It was such a blessing to be a part of this podcast with you.

Linda: Thank you. Thank you again for listening to the Prosperity 101 podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, share and leave a great review. Don't forget to visit prosperity101.com to access the entire podcast library, to order my newest book, Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, or to enroll you or your employees in the Breakroom Economics Online Course. You can also receive the free eBook, 10 Tips For Helping Employees Understand How Public Policy Affects Their Paychecks.

Freedom is never free. Understanding the foundations of prosperity and the policies of prosperity will help you to protect prosperity as you become informed, involved and impactful. I give special thanks to our sponsors, Mathews Archery, Incorporated and Wisconsin Stamping & Manufacturing. Please contact us today at prosperity101.com to let us know how we can serve you. Thank you.