By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Dr. Melissa Fry, director of the IU Southeast Applied Research and Education Center (AREC), has received the Jamey Aebersold Spirit of the Red Ribbon Award from Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education Services, Inc., honoring her contribution toward the prevention of substance abuse in the New Albany community.
The awards are given in honor of New Albany native and jazz musician Jamey Aebersold, a tireless community advocate and supporter of prevention efforts in Floyd County. Nominations are considered in categories ranging from education and law enforcement to faith-based and youth.
Our Place is a nonprofit agency that has provided prevention and intervention services to youth, adults and families since 1981. Funded in part by the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addictions, Metro United Way, the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, Our Place serves residents of Floyd, Clark, Harrison, Washington and Scott Counties.
“Our Place was started by recovering addicts as a community based effort to support others struggling to get sober and live healthier and happier lives,” Fry said. “The organization maintains that community based culture and works on addressing substance abuse concerns at many levels and from many angles.”
Our Place services range from early elementary prevention programs such as Footprints for Life and Afterschool ROCKS to early middle and high school prevention programs such as LifeSkills. Our Place also provides early intervention and outpatient programs for youths, adults and their family members. New Beginnings is one of their newer programs that addresses separating or divorcing parents in high-conflict situations, which research shows increases the likelihood of mental health or substance abuse related problems in children. Substance abuse screenings, employee assistance and tobacco prevention and cessation services are also offered. In addition, Our Place renders community-based education and training for businesses, employers and organizations, and works closely with the New Albany Floyd County School Corporation to also facilitate its alcohol and drug expulsion program, while building prevention efforts in Greater Clark County Schools as well.
AREC has provided Our Place with evaluation services for many years. Fry inherited this relationship when she assumed the directorship in 2011. As director of AREC, Fry, a sociologist, has applied the comprehensive analytical capacities of the unit to assess the effectiveness of Our Place initiatives.
“Her ongoing support and guidance to develop and implement an evaluation plan for Our Place programs allow us to see what is working and what is struggling,” said Meribeth Adams-Wolf, Our Place executive director. “We can then make adjustments to make sure that the programs we provide are the best they can be.”
Adams-Wolf appreciates Fry’s field-specific knowledge and her ability to bring that knowledge into play, as well as her passion and commitment. She credits Fry, and the AREC team she leads, with bringing substance abuse to the forefront among civic stakeholders as an issue of concern to the community.
For her part, Fry is quick to direct attention back to Our Place.
“I am honored to be recognized, but Our Place does the work,” Fry said.
Fry sees herself as a “connector” who brings people together and delivers data and analyses that illuminate relationships between substance abuse challenges on the one hand and economic development, education and housing on the other. This work frequently involves students, who weave it into research projects or simply use it to gain experience. For some, it becomes a calling. Currently two former research assistants from AREC work at Our Place, and Adams-Wolf is herself an IU Southeast alumna who performed community-based research while a student, long before Fry came to AREC.
These are not the only synergies between IU Southeast and Our Place. The organization works with the Office of Student Life to address prevention needs on campus, and with the School of Nursing to help students learn to train senior citizens in prescription management and other aspects of wellness education.
“As a regional university, we bring a set of tools that can help local organizations use strong data and analysis to improve their work, tell their story and connect their work to that of others,” Fry said. “The fact that we use students to do that is absolutely essential to producing tomorrow’s leaders.”
Throughout the months-long process of crunching data for a major needs assessment and convening forums for officials, activists, collaborators and the public, Fry never loses sight of the individuals whose fates are the reason for the work.
“I deal a lot with numbers, but the more textured stories behind Our Place’s programs are where I get the greatest inspiration,” Fry said.
Homepage photo: Melissa Fry, director of AREC, with the “Jamey Aebersold Spirit of the Red Ribbon” award from Our Place, Inc., bestowed at a ceremony at the Calumet Club in New Albany, Ind. Photo courtesy of Our Place, Inc.