In this interview, we sit down with the Prevention and Intervention team at CLARE|MATRIX talk about their career trajectories, program achievements and how a humble beginning nearly 20 years ago has now transformed to serving over 1000 children and parents each year.

Pictured (L-R): Jacqueline Morris, Peter Bippus, Shawn Davis, Hannah Campbell, and Kimia Kabir at their weekly team meeting

Could you take us through your career highlights? And what led you to CLARE|MATRIX?

Hannah Campbell, Prevention Specialist – I grew up Missouri and moved to Los Angeles for school. I worked in film for a bit, but didn’t feel like I was doing what I was meant to do, so I went back to graduate school and got my master’s in marriage and family therapy.

Following that, I worked at The People’s Concern in Santa Monica and helped people coming off of the streets to get housing. I worked with a lot of people who had a substance use disorder from when they were homeless. Some of the people I worked with were still using and, while others were in recovery, I saw the lifetime impact of starting to use at the age of 13. I thought it would be rewarding to work in a role that’s at the front end of preventing the disorder. It’s my hope that trying to get students excited about things that aren’t substances will prevent them from using.

I joined the Prevention program at CLARE|MATRIX in July 2018 and provide individual drug and alcohol counseling to high school and middle school children. I also lead a group for the Santa Monica Trade Interns program that helps transition-age youth acquire experience in skilled trades.

 

Shawn Davis, Prevention Manager – I’ve been with the organization for three years and oversee our program from an administrative stand point. Our program is called prevention, but we actually are broader than that because we provide school-based counseling and early intervention services. This program at CLARE|MATRIX is deeply connected with youth, families and communities and I work hard to build those community relationships so we can best serve our youth.

I am a lawyer and mediator by training and education. I’ve done a lot of non-profit management and previously worked with families dealing with the housing crisis and facing foreclosure. My past work experiences taught me the importance of building effective stakeholder relationships in order to better serve the community.

 

Kimia Kabir, Prevention Specialist – I started as a trainee within this program while working towards my master’s in marriage and family therapy at Pepperdine. I took a chance because it was a population I was interested in working with and was hired full-time after six months with the program.

I now primarily work with higher risk students out of Olympic High School, which is the continuation high school in Santa Monica. The students I work with are all dealing with drug and alcohol use, and many also have histories of trauma, or have even dealt with homelessness. I also provide individual counseling services out of Santa Monica High School.

 

Jacqueline Morris, Prevention Specialist – I’m coming up on five years here (at CLARE|MATRIX) in July, and mostly run the drug and alcohol education groups throughout Santa Monica. I do some individual counseling, but the bulk of it is group facilitation – it is actually what I prefer.  I’m also part of our Service Planning Area (SPA) 8 coalition team, which partners with other prevention agencies in the South Bay. We organize events and work with these partner agencies on events such as wellness fairs and drug take-back events.

Most of my previous work experience has been with youth. I came from a pregnancy prevention program, teaching sex education to youth in middle and high school.  

 

Peter Bippus, Prevention Specialist – I come from a marketing and advertising background in New York. I moved to Los Angeles and began working with the LA LGBT Center, primarily serving youth who were transitioning and facing issues around coming out. I then worked with domestic violence victims and perpetrators, who often had substance use disorders.

These past work experiences led me to an opportunity to work with CLARE|MATRIX and I took it. I completed my master’s in marriage and family therapy and am happy to be here. 

 

How did the Prevention and Intervention program begin? And how has it developed over the years?

Jacqueline – I know a little bit of the evolution. Over twenty years ago, CLARE ran a program for women with substance use disorders and offered support services and coping skills for their children. As time went on, we realized the need to focus on children at-risk and that’s how the prevention and intervention program came about.

Shawn – Given our work and expertise in working with children at-risk, we were in a position to partner with Los Angeles County and the City of Santa Monica to begin providing prevention, education, counseling and intervention services. The City of Santa Monica works closely with our program, since we are the school-based intervention offered when we have kids who are showing early signs of use and have substance use issues.

It’s amazing how these partnerships enable us to provide children and families with free counseling, workshops and education resources.

Pictured (L-R): Kimia Kabir, Peter Bippus and Hannah Campbell of the CLARE|MATRIX Prevention and Intervention Team

 

Have your perspectives shifted on substance use through your work with children and families?

Jacqueline – my understanding of addiction has grown a lot since I started working in the field. It used to be black and white. I have come to understand a lot of things differently and to recognize the true impact that substance use disorders have on youth in the community, especially when we consider how use during adolescence affects the brain.

Shawn – As we do more assessments for youth, we see that a lot of them come from families where there are a lot of challenges. It’s really important that we partner with school personnel and families. We do education for school staff and parents on the topic of substance use prevention in youth and the team ends up doing a lot of case management to serve our families.

In our line of work, we’re also trying to balance perspectives. For example, around the marijuana law changes – you may have your own viewpoint around what the legality of it should be, but as Jackie was saying, you really need to step back and think about what that means for a 13-year old. How can we balance some of the things that people may want from a freedom of choice or policy standpoint with a public health standpoint? We need to keep kids safe, help them develop in a way that is healthy, and give them the coping skills they need. This is a perspective that we may not have focused on otherwise.

Kimia –  I agree with the team. I definitely had more of a black and white perspective when I first started working in the field, but I’ve learned that every case and child is different. Every time I have someone coming in for counseling and I think that I’m going to understand, or I know everything about how to help them, I am challenged. Our knowledge around substance use is constantly evolving, as is the way families and the environment impact the kids we are serving.

It’s important for us to support these children and give them a place to really open up because it is hard for them to deal with a lot of the power differential between teachers and school administrators, with parents even. It’s important to remember that we are just here to support and care about every individual’s story. So sometimes it’s very easy to be in the black and white and think addiction is addiction, but everyone’s story and environment plays such a huge role in its development. Going in as a “professional” isn’t generally effective; they just want somebody to talk to.

Shawn – Yes people are so complex and the situations are so nuanced, so really giving the safe space to open up and change things (intervention and counseling) is what can make an impact in their lives.

Kimia – I learn with my clients and from my clients all the time.

Shawn – and we have some funny stories along the way.

 

How do our community partners help in creating a positive influence?

Shawn – We rely on our community partners to a great extent – there’s only so much we can do as a team of five here. If Kimia sees a kid who sees a kid and recognizes that they are under-housed or there is no food on the table, then we do our part to find those solutions with our partners.

The team does an incredible job at managing each case because unlike a residential setting, we are an hour per week in a child’s life and they have so many other people they are interacting with. It’s really important that we coordinate our services with those provided by our community partners.

We work with the Boys and Girls Club, St. John’s, Family Service of Santa Monica, the Santa Monica-Malibu School District and Virginia Avenue Park, just to name a few. Virginia Avenue Park is where the Youth Resource Team (YRT) is housed, as well as the teen center. We actually have a kid who goes there and is recording in their studio. They also have boxing equipment, music equipment, and after-school enrichment. Through our YRT partnerships, we are part of a Santa Monica collaborative that works with the Hospitality Training Academy, Santa Monica Trade Interns and   Jewish Vocational Services, all of which provide youth the opportunity to work and get job training. The Department of Mental Health attends the YRT meetings, as does Santa Monica Housing Authority, so you can see what a hub of amazing resources it really is. Through the Santa Monica Cradle to Career initiative, we also have a lot of resources for early childhood development.