Youth Problem Solver

Meet 2015 Skidmore Prize Winner Drew Gadbois

"Drew is passionate and driven when it comes to creating freedom from addiction in the youth of our community. He is particularly skilled at reaching a difficult-to-reach population."

—Erin DeVet, Director of Youth & Family Services, De Paul Treatment Center

A bulletin board hangs above Drew Gadbois' desk in his office at De Paul Treatment Center in Portland. Pinned to the top left corner is a collage of clippings from Seventeen magazine. The words "Rising" and "Step Up" in bold typeface are focal points, next to a cutout of a pink mascara tube and a cheese pizza.

The collage was a gift from a client. Gadbois, counseling services supervisor, had assigned the collage exercise after realizing the girl's biggest barrier to success was to spiral into negative thought patterns.

"I was like, 'You need to put together a collage of positive thoughts that make you think about change and growth.' So that's what she made," he says, glancing up at the board. "And before she left, she gave it to me."

De Paul serves youth struggling from addiction to drugs and alcohol by working with them in treatment programs ranging from outpatient care to residential or detoxification services.

Most clients graduate from De Paul's two-month residential program, which involves a highly structured schedule of group sessions, individual counseling and recreation. Graduation from the program requires positive social behavior, effective and honest communication, and progress based on the level of care.

But when a client fails to meet these benchmarks and must leave De Paul, Gadbois is often involved in that conversation. Fermenting orange juice in the dorm, lying about possessing a weapon, or failure to pass urine analyses is likely to result in discharge from the program.

"It's that balance between that individual and the safety of everybody," he says. "I have to hold that. I try to be empathetic and validate that it sucks and it's hard."

Gadbois, 30, has worked in the nonprofit community for 11 years. He acutely understands the path to recovery. His past includes a list of foster care nightmares, sporadic stints in treatment programs and lack of belief in his own strengths.

"Sometimes self-disclosure actually ends up being therapeutic," he says, recalling a story about a former client who was adopted overseas. He fell into addiction at age 14 and was forced by his adoptive family in and out of group homes, leaving him unable to imagine a life of interpersonal connection.

"I was like, 'Listen, man, I've been in almost your same exact shoes,'" Gadbois says. "The reality is, you have to create your own family."

Prior to his current duties, Gadbois spent more time in sessions with clients. Now, his supervisory role largely involves problem-solving with staff—his work family.

Friday mornings at 10:30, Gadbois runs a check-in meeting with two members of his staff. They discuss the previous night's "poop scandal" in Cedar, the boys' dorm, and a more immediate issue of a prohibited 4-inch yellow razor on a key chain turned in by a boy who found it in the dorm. The staff assigns clients as mentors to incoming clients, debates visitation-day approval strategies, and suggests ideas to get kids to respect the recreation-time rules.

And this is just 10 minutes out of one day. On inspection, Gadbois' calendar looks like the inside of a pack of Skittles. Orange means off-site, yellow is a client meeting. Staff meetings are pink, and supervisions are aqua.

"This is our program," he says, "and we're responsible for what happens in it and maintaining a therapeutic milieu. I take that very seriously."

Gadbois wants to expand his work at De Paul to include sober transitional housing for kids who graduate but have nowhere constructive or safe to live, and he's working to incorporate more LGBTQ-specific programming.

"These youth are resilient," he says. "We need to listen to who they truly are instead of judging what brought them into our services." Steph Barnhart


Gadbois' team of seven counselors and case managers serves daily up to 40 kids who are seeking freedom from addiction. Of nearly 600 kids Gadbois has individually counseled at De Paul, at least 70 percent have successfully graduated from the program.

Drew Gadbois' prize is generously sponsored by Morel Ink.

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