Kristen Polin, CEO of Scottsdale-based nonprofit notMYkid, has dedicated her life’s work to educating and empowering today’s youth and their families to overcome challenges and make positive life choices.
And the reason why is a heavy: Polin, herself, almost died from drugs and alcohol use during her freshman year of college.
“I’m really lucky that I’m even alive,” she said. “It was really a turning point for me.”
Polin said she struggled with alcohol and stimulants; when she awoke in the emergency room the night of her overdose, a nurse asked, “Why are you trying to kill yourself?”
“I didn’t have an answer,” Polin said. “I got so swept up in loving that escape. I’m somebody who does everything with intensity and when I discovered drugs and the way they’d numb and provide comfort, the game was on.”
That moment in the ER was her wake-up call.
Polin received help and support from friends and family, who helped her turn her life around.
“There was something inside me that wanted to understand my own addiction and then help other people,” said Polin, who then dove right into the behavioral health field.
For 17 years, Polin worked for Mesa-based nonprofit Community Bridges, which provides comprehensive, medically integrated behavioral health programs.
She then went on to work for Scottsdale-based nonprofit notMYkid for nearly three years, where she served as vice president of programs.
After a year hiatus working as the chief operating officer for start-up True Mobile Health in Scottsdale, Polin returned to notMYkid as CEO in March.
“I felt the absence in my life,” she said. “My passion and purpose is to be here to help families in prevention and early intervention. Then the CEO position opened up, and I got the opportunity to come back, which is a dream come true.”
Founded in 2000, notMYkid is dedicated to inspiring youth to make positive life choices.
The nonprofit offers a peer-to-peer model of programs that include behavioral health prevention education for youth, parents and educators; corporate employee wellness programs; and leadership workshops for youth.
Currently, notMYkid is hosting its annual National Back to School Substance Abuse Prevention Campaign.
As part of the campaign, now in its 15th year, notMYkid partnered with First Check Diagnostics, the leader in home diagnostic testing, which has donated 10,000 drug test kits.
“This [kit] is not a ‘gotcha!’ This is, ‘I’ve got your back,’” Polin explained.
The free kits — valued at $40 — come with substance abuse prevention strategies and a family drug prevention plan.
“Research shows that 75 percent of high school students have used addictive substances; we want your child to have an easy out,” Polin said. “Make it easy for them to say ‘no’ and put the blame on you as a parent.”
So far, notMYkid has given away 5,000 kits, which Polin describes as a conversation starter with teens, in hopes of stopping the peer pressure before it starts.
“A lot of parents are ashamed of what their kids are going through, and we take the shame out of it and make it a reality of ‘let’s help you put together a prevention plan and work with your child,’” she said. “[The kids] are the No. 1 reason why people ring our doorbell.”
For kids who test positive for drugs, notMYkid began offering Project Rewind three years ago.
“It’s a six-hour program that we offer for those kids who have started to smoke marijuana or drink,” Polin said.
Polin said the program, free to Scottsdale residents, has grown 400 percent since its inception, and more than 800 families have taken part.
“It was a wonderful success because it gets families that weren’t talking about it, talking about it—and it’s all peer run,” Polin said.
notMYkid is holding an open house 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 9 for parents to pick up the free First Check drug test kits and prevention materials, as well as meet some of the organization’s prevention professionals and have questions answered about substance use prevention for youth and families.
In September, when the campaign comes to an end, notMYkid will then launch a new website and a podcast called “Win This Year.”
The new website and podcast are part of notMYkid’s branding overhaul efforts.
“We’re going to offer practical advice and tips for parents,” said Polin, who added that a new podcast episode will be published every week.
“We’re going to load up our podcast with experts and our own speakers that keep the issues current for parents on how to parent in today’s world,” she said.
The website, which will go live on Sept. 10, aims to take uncomfortable topics, make them relevant and remove the shame attached to them, Polin said.
“We really want to break through a whole new energy and tone to what teens are going through and what that support looks like,” she added. The website is going to be lighter, brighter and easier to navigate.
“We know people move fast and they need information quickly, so we’re looking at ways to be more relevant in a fast-paced prevention world where we can give parents what they need when they need it.”
Polin also wants to take notMYkid to the national stage and expand its programs to more kids and families throughout the Valley.
“We want to show other communities in other states how to implement what we do,” she said. “We want to be a national model.”
Information: notmykid.org or visit notMYkid at 5230 E. Shea Blvd., Suite 100.