The Baltimore Sun: By David Anderson
Tara Handron, who created a one-woman play about women recovering from alcohol addiction and has spent a number of years working in the field of addiction recovery, is bringing those personal and professional experiences to Harford County-based Ashley Addiction Treatment as the organization’s first vice president of engagement.
Handron, 47, started working with Ashley about two weeks ago after spending 10 years with Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers. She worked to build her previous employer’s presence in the Washington, D.C., region by connecting with donors, healthcare providers, managing Caron’s local board and following up with alumni who have completed recovery programs.
She is doing similar work with Ashley, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Havre de Grace. Ashley provides an array for services for people recovering from addiction — as well as their families — in inpatient and outpatient settings. More than 50,000 people have been through Ashley’s programs since its founding in 1983 by Mae Ashley Abraham and the Rev. Joseph C. Martin.
As vice president of engagement, Handron will work in the areas of fundraising and support of Ashley alumni and their families. She noted that she will work with Ashley’s existing staff, building on an “already great foundation of fundraising and alumni engagement.”
Handron noted that “half the people I meet who are in recovery in the D.C. area went to Ashley,” and that she had interacted with Alex Denstman, an incoming co-CEO of Ashley, which she was working with Caron.
Denstman, to whom Handron will report, is slated to become CEO March 1 along with Dr. Greg Hobelmann. Denstman, current senior vice president and chief growth officer, and Hobelmann, senior vice president and chief medical and clinical officer, will succeed current president and CEO David Nassef.
Nassef and Handron also will work on Capitol Hill to ensure members of Congress know about Ashley, and if lawmakers want to know more about addiction recovery or the opioid crisis, that their organization is “the resource they call, that we are that thought leader,” Handron said.
Denstman, in a statement, described Handron as “a seasoned professional who embodies a profound passion for helping others by shining a light on addiction in brilliant and creative ways.”
“We look forward to her fresh approach on continuing to build the Ashley brand and broaden our reach regionally, as well as strengthening our fundraising programs and relationships with alumni who look to us as a stabilizing force during these unpredictable times,” he added.
Ashley welcomes Handron to its team at a “crucial time, when substance use is on the rise and we continue to be uniquely challenged by the coronavirus pandemic,” Denstman noted.
Ashley has taken measures at its inpatient and outpatient facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, plus the organization is offering some services, such as 12-step meetings, online. Handron noted there are many more participants in the online meetings, compared to what Ashley has seen in the past when meetings were in person. “We have really amped things up, because we know people need more support right now,” she said.
Handron, who has been sober from alcohol addiction for 21 years, was not a patient with Ashley, but she found success in recovery through 12-step programs. The New York native was living in Chicago at the time and had few resources to help with alcohol addiction — she tried using self-help books and working with therapists, including those referred by her father, a psychologist, “but it wasn’t getting to the heart of the problem.”
She opened the phone book and found a 1-800 number to connect with local 12-step programs and started going to meetings. Handron continued attending meetings when she moved to the Washington area and began working with Caron.
“People just scooped me up, and included me in everything and encouraged me and showed me the way,” she said. “That is the spirit of 12-step recovery, and that is the spirit of Ashley.”
Handron said 12-step recovery programs are “a sustainable model for treatment,” but she stressed such programs are not the only method available, noting “no one size fits all, no one way is better than the other” for treating addiction.
Handron was exposed to the arts at a young age. She recalls her father taking her and her twin brother to plays, musicals, movies and art exhibits in New York City. She later trained with institutions such as the Lee Strasberg Institute and The Second City and has performed in New York and Chicago.
She developed her one-woman show, “Drunk With Hope,” based on her master’s degree thesis about women going through recovery. She realized, as she was doing her research and interviews, that it could be a way for people to learn more about recovery and the 12-step process, that she could put the information “on the stage, with characters” and tell stories of recovery from different angles.
“That could be a really wonderful educational vehicle, and really honor the recovery community and honor sober women,” Handron said.
Handron is working with Ashley full time, and she writes and performs on a part-time basis. Clips from “Drunk With Hope” are available on YouTube, and more information can be found on Handron’s website.
Handron said she plans to work with Ashley “to really take the fundraising to the next level, so we’re really thinking about Ashley being here for generations to come.”
“How do I keep giving back as a person in recovery and make sure that there are resources and help for the next sick and suffering alcoholic or addict?” Handron said of her overall goal.
For more information on Ashley Addiction Treatment: https://www.ashleytreatment.org/