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Cool connections: Drug-ARM

Drug-ARM Alcohol and Drug Counsellor Lis Rate-Smith (left) and Pathway Reintegration Team Lead + Drug-ARM Manager & Senior Practitioner Geoff Howard (right)

When it comes to partnerships, the one we have with local organisation Drug-Arm is a powerful one - and not just because it enables us to share the expertise of Geoff Howard - though that’s a pretty big plus in our books!

A manager for Drug-ARM since 2002, Geoff has been directly involved in the development and implementation of specialised interventions for youth and adults experiencing difficulties with drug and alcohol. He’s also Pathway’s Reintegration Team Lead.

“We’re closely aligned in how we work with people and how long we work with them,” Geoff says of the relationship between both organisations. “Both organisations offer holistic, relational-based support and we both work with people for as long as that help is needed, so it was only natural that we would form a partnership, which is exactly what we did in 2004.”

The Drug-ARM story started with a crew of trained volunteers delivering a Street Van Outreach programme providing emergency first aid, hot drinks, food and resources in the 1990s to the Christchurch street based community. While anyone at all can come along for a feed, many of our people struggle with issues such as homelessness, addictions, mental health struggles, loneliness and feeling a bit disengaged. It’s a cool story of connection that continues to this day.

“Food has long been a vehicle to build connection with people and, to this day, the Street Van Outreach continues to serve hot food and drinks to their community, giving unconditional love and, over time, building relationships which create opportunities to provide help and support,” Geoff says.

“If you’ve got no relationship, you’ve got nothing. Therapeutic tools always take second place to a relationship and connection.”

In 2007, Drug-ARM started a community-based support group for those who had just come out of prison and, in 2018 when Pathway’s Navigate Initiative kicked off, the organisation began providing the same service from inside the wire.

Meanwhile, Drug-ARM’s Alcohol and Drug Counsellor Lis Rate-Smith, who also has a Diploma in Fine Arts, runs the award-winning creative arts studio, Art East inside the NI and, with a recent fundraising drive having been successfully completed, she will be setting up a screen printing studio in the community for those who are rebuilding their lives on the outside, based on art’s ability to support healing.

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