Until 2015, FOR-NY consisted of a volunteer Board of Directors committed to raising awareness and support for Recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs throughout New York State. Today, with the support of a professional staff, the Board remains dedicated to advancing the FOR-NY mission and guiding the continued growth of the organization.
President: CHACKU MATHAI, CPRPCPRP, President and CEO for the MHA of Rochester and Monroe County
Chacku Mathai is an Indian-American, born in Kuwait, who got involved in mental health and addiction recovery advocacy when he was 15 years old. Chacku’s personal experiences as a youth and young adult in mental health and addiction recovery in New York launched he and his family towards advocacy for improved services and alternative supports in the community such as the SOBER Barn, a recovery center for teens in Rochester, NY that was opened in November, 1985.
He has since accumulated over thirty-one years of experience as a person in recovery working with mental health and addiction community-based services in a wide variety of roles from youth leadership and community organizing to executive and board management.
Mr. Mathai currently serves as the President and CEO for the MHA of Rochester and Monroe County. He previously served as the Director for the STAR Center, one of five National Technical Assistance Centers funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The purpose of the overall program is to provide technical assistance to facilitate the restructuring of the mental health system by promoting recovery and consumer directed approaches.
Prior to joining the STAR Center, Chacku was the Associate Executive Director for the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS) and an implementation partner for the New York State Center of Excellence for the Integration of Care (CEIC), the SAMHSA Northeast Addiction Technology Transfer Network (NE-C ATTC), the SAMHSA Recovery to Practice Resource Center for Behavioral Health Professionals and the SAMHSA Bringing Recovery Supports To Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS-TACS).
Chacku was also appointed to the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) Credentialing Board and served as a founding board member and advocate for Friends of Recovery – New York, a statewide coalition of people in recovery from addiction. He is also a former member of the Commission that oversees the United States Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (USPRA) Certification Program for Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioners (CPRP). Chacku was also a National Advisory Councilmember for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and continues to provide advisory leadership and support for a number of national projects.
Chacku is regularly invited to train across the country on youth leadership development, health and wellness activation, building collaborations across addiction and mental health recovery communities and systems, peer support, cultural competence, employment and economic self-sufficiency, organizational and community leadership, systems advocacy and implementing exemplary, integrated practices in supporting wellness and recovery for people with psychiatric disabilities, diagnoses, trauma related conditions and co-occurring substance use conditions.
Debra (Deb) Rhoades has worked in the field of Addiction and Recovery since 1984 when she accepted a position as a Prevention Counselor working with Children of Alcoholics at United Hospital in New Rochelle, New York. As a young Social Worker, Deb never expected to be working with “drug addicts or alcoholics,” but once introduced and “exposed” to individuals in long term recovery from addiction, she never looked back. She continued to grow in her career, counseling in the addiction field and obtained her CASAC in 1987 and a Masters in Social Work in 1990.
For the next twenty seven years, Deb was employed at the Albany County Department of Mental Health where she held multiple positions within the addiction services arena. In 2005, Deb became the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Coordinator and was responsible for the oversight and contract management of all NYS Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) licensed treatment and prevention programs in Albany County. In addition, Ms. Rhoades was responsible for assessing and planning the addiction prevention, treatment and recovery needs in Albany County. She has trained in the treatment of co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders and presented on the addiction epidemic impacting individuals, families and communities across the United States. Upon retiring from the Albany County Department of Mental Health in early 2017, Deb accepted a position as Associate Executive Director at Hope House in Albany where she’s working to bring more of a culture of recovery to the agency.
While “growing up” both professionally and personally, Deb’s younger brother developed an addiction problem that sadly resulted in significant family distress, child welfare involvement and legal problems. In 2007, Deb, her husband and young son became “a relative foster family” for her brother’s 16 year-old daughter, Kristina. As a family member of someone addicted, and as a professional working in the field, Deb recognized that it was very important to seek counseling and support for herself. “Family members must take care of themselves. Dealing with the force of addiction in the family is devastating, overwhelming and emotionally draining for all of the family”. Unfortunately, Deb’s brother is currently incarcerated as the result of his addiction and as a family member, Deb feels strongly that there needs to be more support and counseling (multiple pathways) for family members impacted by addiction.
In 2012, Deb watched the Kickstarter video for a new documentary called “The Anonymous People”. The movie, revealed what she knew was always the case; that Recovery is possible and real in the United States. She always felt that only those in “the field” and “in Recovery” were privy to the power and possibility of Recovery. She knew this movie would change how we as a society view and treat addiction and made the commitment to become more involved in the “new Recovery movement.”
In 2014, Deb was appointed to the Board of Friends of Recovery- New York where she is a passionate advocate in the recovery movement and works tirelessly to engage providers, family members and the community at large to support and become a part of the historical changes in the world of addiction and recovery. She was appointed Vice President of the Board in March 2017.
Secretary: DONA PAGANCASAC-GS, NCAC 1, CRPA, Exponents/Center for Personal and Professional Development, New York City
Dona Pagan has more than 26 years of experience in nonprofit and program management, peer program and human resource development, strategic planning, and curriculum development. She is the founder of DYSO (Do You See Opportunity?) and RALCA (Recovery & Life Coaching Academy) and is considered one of the pioneers of Recovery Coaching in New York.
Dona is a Person in Long Term Recovery, a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate (CRPA), Certified Addiction Recovery Coach (CARC), Recovery Coach Trainer, and Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR ) Core Trainer (one of only six people authorized to give the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy Training of Trainers in NYS).
ERIC W. DYERJ.D., M.B.A., Associate, Barclay and Damon, LLP., Albany
Eric Dyer is an attorney with the law firm Barclay Damon LLP in the firm’s health care practice group. Eric graduated from Albany Law School and Clarkson University in 2016 with a Juris Doctor and Masters in Business Administration in Healthcare Management. Prior to graduate school, Eric attended Union College where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Eric grew up outside of Boston, MA and now lives in Albany, NY. Eric is proud to be a person in long-term recovery.
LAURIE J. LIEBERMANMPA, LMSW, CASAC-2, CRPA, Director of Recovery Services, Samaritan Daytop Village, Jamaica
Ms. Lieberman is the Director of Recovery Services for Samaritan Village,
Over the course of her career, Ms. Lieberman has been responsible for enhancing complementary use of evidence based practice for clients use while Director of the Van Wyck residential facility. This included involvement in field testing stages with OASAS and OMH to implement use of Wellness Self-Management, a curriculum-based practice designed to provide adults with mental health and substance use concerns the knowledge and life strategies that support recovery. The WSM+ assists individuals to accomplish goals, manage life difficulties, and enhance their mental health and physical health. Other innovation implementation efforts have included Thinking for a Change, NIATx Change team model, and the Re-entry after Prison (RAP) group. These efforts have supported both healing and emotional growth for people in recovery and outstanding outcomes for the Van Wyck facility.
In her current role at Samaritan Village, Ms. Lieberman has been charged with developing and enhancing the agency’s use of recovery oriented systems of care within the scope of substance abuse services. These efforts include training and integrating use of recovery coaches within the Samaritan Village system of care, strengthening use of recovery oriented systems of care throughout the agency and implementing a the Peer Alliance Recovery center the first OASAS funded recovery center in Queens County New York.
Ms. Lieberman has over 22 years of experience working in the fields of substance abuse, mental health, juvenile justice and homeless services. She holds a BS in Human Services from SUNY Empire State College and graduated with honors (Pi Alpha Alpha) with a Masters in Public Administration from Marist College and her MSW from Hunter College’ Silberman School of Social Work. Ms. Lieberman is also a Licensed Master of Social Work in NYS, NYS Credentialized Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) a NYS Credentialized Prevention Professional (CPP), both a certified recovery coach, certified peer advocate (CRPA), a certified Mental Health First Aid trainer and a recovery coach trainer. She is also the recipient of the 2015 NYS Commissioners Award for Recovery Services. In addition, she has been a faculty instructor at Resource Training Center, Outreach Training Institute and at Exponents, Inc. and is on the Executive Board of Directors for Friends of Recovery NY (FOR-NY). Ms. Lieberman is an alumnus of Samaritan Village Inc and is proud to be in long term recovery
EDWARD L. OLSENLCSW, CASAC, I-CDAC, Director, United Veterans Beacon House, Northport Veteran’s Administration Residence.
Past President, Charles J. Devlin, Vice President of Substance Abuse & Development, Brightpoint Health, New York City
Past President, Laura Elliott-Engel, MA, CASAC-G, LMHC
“You just don’t know where the ripples are going to go.”
~ Laura Elliot-Engel
“You just don’t know where the ripples are going to go.”