Reclaiming Futures' New Partnership and Development Director - an Interview

Photo of Mark FulopI’m excited because we’ve hired Mark Fulop, M.A., M.P.H. (pictured at left), to serve as the Partnership and Development Director for Reclaiming Futures. As you’ll see from the interview below, Mark’s got an interesting background and an intriguing take on our mission. (And be sure you check out his insightful way of looking at sustainability.) –Benjamin  
BC: What made you want to join the Reclaiming Futures team?
Mark: It’s a project that focuses on the strengths of young people and concurrently does not let the community off the hook for their responsibility for their kids. It says, “Your work isn’t done until every young person entering the juvenile justice system with a substance use issue is met with opportunity and not obstacles.”
And that's inspiring because it means Reclaiming Futures takes up the human rights challenge of youth--the way we as a nation
disempower youth by labeling them as “at-risk” or “troubled." That disempowerment can be seen in dropout rates, substance abuse rates and incarceration rates. When I realized Reclaiming Futures' deeper vision and ethos was to tackle this issue, I didn’t hesitate to join the team. 

BC: What background do you bring to this work?
Mark: I bring a fairly unique background, having worked in public health since the early 90s.
Over the last 17 years, I’ve worked in tobacco control, college health, HIV prevention, national service, restorative justice, and environmental health. (I even had the privilege of leading the National Mentoring Center between 2001 and 2005.) Each of these projects deepened my skills and commitment to health equity and social justice. 
BC: What are your views on teen alcohol and other drug (AOD) use from a public health perspective?
Mark: I’m well-versed in the statistics of “youth risk behaviors,” which are both endemic (widespread and long-term) as well as epidemic (compelling and urgent). It’s like the violence statistics you posted on the blog last week.
We literally have the equivalent of New York’s twin towers full of young people collapsing every six months, when you consider the cumulative death statistics for youth due to homicide, suicide, traffic fatalities, AIDS, etc. And what’s the common theme running through all of them? AOD use and abuse. So it’s absolutely clear to me that the number one public health epidemic facing our youth is the explosive and exploitive pressure of alcohol and other drugs.
However, I’m also a parent, and this is where it becomes real to me. I think of my own children and my responsibility to help them avoid the loaded gun of alcohol and drugs, and then it ripples outward from there. Once I accept my responsibility for my kids, I then have a responsibility for their friends and classmates, and then for their siblings, and finally for my community. 
BC: What will be your role in the National Program Office?
Mark: Initially, my role is to help the National Program Office figure out how to expand the number of communities using Reclaiming Futures as a model to help youth entering the juvenile justice system who have substance use and abuse issues.
I’ll be looking at opportunities to build on the partnerships we have in place, but also on finding new partners, such as states and local government agencies, other foundations, and possibly even corporate sponsors.
On a secondary level, I envision my role as helping local initiatives become sustainable. 
BC: Along those lines, what do you see as the keys to local sustainability?
Mark: To me, a program is sustainable when it’s not on the table when budget cuts are being considered--even in the worst economic times. With that definition in mind, I think there are five measures of sustainability for project sites:

  1. Are you creating public policy that embeds restorative justice, treatment and youth development into the DNA of your juvenile justice system?
  2. Are you identifying, recruiting and training institutional and community leaders who’ll not only support the system you’re building, but fight really hard to preserve it?
  3. Do you have an informed community that demands access to Reclaiming Futures for all kids entering into the juvenile justice system?
  4. Are you engaging public officials, local philanthropy and the private sector in creating a long-term resource development plan?
  5. Do you have data that demonstrates the effectiveness, cost-savings, and accountability of the program and stories of reclaimed young lives that speak to the heart? 

I think these questions are useful for any Reclaiming Futures team beginning to think about sustainability. Maybe another time we can talk about the strategies, deliverables and outcomes that support each of those questions.
BC: That’d be great, Mark. Welcome to Reclaiming Futures!

Updated: April 15 2009