The Sun’s Sarah Ford recently sat down with Leslie Nicholson, founder of RISK, a Sonoma support group for parents whose kids face substance abuse, bullying, or other challenges.
Tell me about RISK and how it got started.
The idea for RISK, which stands for Resources, Information, Support, and Knowledge, came to me four years ago when we were going through challenges with our older child. I saw a lack of support for parents trying to help a child with alcohol or drug dependency, who might be facing school and law enforcement issues, and spinning out of control. It’s very hard, and parents can feel alone and judged. For us, finding resources felt like starting from scratch. I thought we could set up a support system that would put resources at parents’ fingertips, and would create a community of parents who were going through or had gone through similar struggles. So about three years ago we started RISK. We realized that if parents aren’t supported while they’re dealing with this, the ramifications are really difficult.
It’s hard to parent when you feel isolated.
Right. And as a parent, the last thing you need when raising other children, paying bills, working, and trying to manage your household, is to spend most of your energy trying to keep a child safe or out of trouble. It requires constant monitoring and takes a huge toll on the parents and the family.
How does it take a toll?
Emotionally, financially, missed work, counseling costs. You’re basically going down rabbit holes to find help. It puts stress on relationships, and you’re trying to protect your other children and make their life as normal as possible.
So you wanted to help other parents avoid some of that.
Absolutely. As we were going through it, I thought: when I get to the point where things are more manageable, maybe we could come up with something for other parents. I was driving to work one day and I thought of the word RISK and how we could make that positive. Resources, Information, Support, and Knowledge just came to me, and it covered everything. I knew we needed to introduce it in a way that didn’t put people on the defensive but showed them we can come together to support each other.
Did you foresee your child’s struggles?
You never know what curve ball life is going to throw you in terms of kids. We had a son who, to be honest, we didn’t expect this to happen to, and it happened so fast, we were like deer in the headlights. Once we stopped being embarrassed, and afraid of what was going on, we started talking to people, and we found support; now it’s time to give back.
At what age did your child’s troubles start?
Thirteen. We wondered, was it a phase or a problem? You hope the foundation you laid kicks into gear, but they’re on their own journey. You’re trying to keep them safe, and when they start risky behaviors like alcohol and drug use, it gets really scary. He didn’t live with us for a few months and we didn’t know where he was. That was the most empty feeling. Whatever RISK can do to help other families, we want to do.
What did you do for your son, and how is he doing now?
He ended up going to a wilderness therapy program, and it was the scariest thing we ever did. At that point it was the best way to change his environment, keep him safe, and give him tools to become a healthy adult. Now he’s at the JC and doing well and working for my husband; he’s back as part of our family unit.
What other difficulties can RISK help with?
We’re listening to parents’ concerns, and we’ll cover a spectrum of issues. One goal is to set up a 24/7 hotline, with volunteers trained by counselors, and a pool of parents as resources. We just want to be that listening ear and to say, for example, ‘Do you want me to call you to check in? ‘This is a small town. Do you want to go to Petaluma?’ ‘What works for you?” We want people to feel confident in our organization’s availability and confidentiality.
Are there any upcoming events you’d like people to know about?
There’s a community forum on February 16 from 6 – 8 in Altimira’s Band Room. The focus will be prescription drug abuse in Sonoma Valley. CVS Pharmacy will present its “One Choice” video and a moderated panel will follow, with law enforcement, county health professionals, local school administrators, and other leaders. The presentation will include Spanish translation.
For more information call 707.343.8393 or visit Risksonoma.com.