Executive Director’s Column: April 2019

How quickly time flies by!  For my first Executive Director’s Column, I want to share some early memories of when I first started with SMART Recovery. I also want to outline some of the key projects and outcomes we are excited to have completed or are currently working on, with involvement by many in our SMART community. I continue to be impressed with SMART Recovery as a 25-year-old organization. Thanks to the vision, dedication, and efforts of many individuals, SMART has come a long way and continues to make an incredible worldwide impact. I am honored to work with our Board of Directors, Central Office team, and the many volunteers and individuals who represent SMART, and to help lay the foundation for our next 25 years… and beyond!


A shot from the 2018 SMART Recovery Annual Conference in Tempe, AZ.

As I reached my six-month mark as executive director of SMART Recovery USA on March 17, 2019, I recalled my visit to the 2018 Annual Conference in Tempe, AZ. Despite being somewhat terrified to be running my first full Board Meeting after only five days on the job, and meeting our SMART community for the first time, I was immediately put at ease by their welcome.  I knew then that my heart had become SMART’s and I was looking forward to putting it to work to support our mission to grow our worldwide impact!

I also vividly remembered my initial impression of our speakers and conference guests, many of whom shared their life stories and SMART experiences. I recall their caring, compassionate, and dedication to SMART, and how deeply appreciative they were for how SMART changed, even saved, their lives. To this day their strength resonates with me. They made difficult life and behavior changes to overcome their addictions. Click here to read a recap of last year’s conference.

Because of my life journey growing up with my seven siblings in St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Erie, PA, I always worked to pay it forward as a community volunteer, appreciating the help I received from many individuals and organizations along the way. I am fortunate to have overcome a difficult childhood and to raise my family while serving others through community work throughout my professional career.

When I joined SMART, I was impressed that so many worldwide SMART volunteers chose to give back to others in many roles, sharing their trials and tribulations with individuals who came to SMART for addiction recovery support. It is these collective memories that serve as a daily reminder of the importance of our SMART Recovery mission and the impact that each of us can make by helping others in need. My memories and life journey fuel my passion, dedication, and commitment to supporting our growth, SMART’s Freedom From Addiction 5-Year Strategic Plan, and to laying the groundwork for our next 25 years of service.

Project Overview

I want to share some of the work that our Central Office team, Board of Directors, and many Committee members and volunteers have been focused on since I started at SMART. While some of these projects may go unnoticed, they are important to our 5-Year Strategic Plan and our mission of growing SMART Recovery’s worldwide impact. We will achieve our multiple strategic objectives if we all work together to plan, design and implement the needed tasks.  My thanks to all of you who have been able to contribute your time, talent and energy to support SMART!!!!

  • Fundraising: We are changing our SMART fundraising model and best practices to establish the culture, guidelines, strategy, and resources to identify, solicit, and secure larger and more diverse financial support of our operations and financial stability. Special thanks to Roxanne Allen, the Board Chair of our Fundraising Committee, for her many years in support of this role. With her guidance, we continue to focus on and expand our efforts to run fundraising campaigns and attract contributions from individuals, charitable foundations, corporations, government grants, and other gifts. Based on our 1stQuarter financial result, we have already realized benefits from our efforts. We are currently running our Volunteer Scholarship program throughout April to raise funds to support scholarships to support volunteers seeking to take our online meeting facilitator training. Learn more about Volunteer Month. We recently established a Fundraising Task Force, led by Tom Horvath, to establish fundraising guidelines. The Task Force will ensure that we maintain our mission, core values, and operating control as we continue to achieve positive results. I want to thank Tom, another long-time board member, and SMART founder, as well as many other board members and volunteers who are working on this effort.
  • Meeting Support & Volunteer Growth: To address this key strategic objective, we increased our staff resources and commitment to supporting our meeting and volunteer growth. Both are at the core of our Freedom From Addiction 5-Year Strategic Plan and SMART mission. In late February, we hired a full-time Volunteer Outreach Coordinator, Melina Gilbert, to work closely with our SMART volunteer community, including our regional and local coordinators, meeting facilitators, moderators, and hosts. Melina is working with Transom, our IT organization, to revamp the tools, workflow, and efficiencies related to our Volunteer and Meeting Registration process. We will continue to work with our volunteer community to identify and address areas of improvement and to make improvements to support their effectiveness in achieving our growth objectives. As sustainable funding becomes available, we will continue to add staff and technology resources to support our growth.
  • SMART Branding: Thanks to the generous financial support of the Chris & Debbie Swain Charitable Foundation and the professional production services of Rising Act Films, Inc., we are starting production of two videos to help tell our SMART story. The first is a short promotional video, and we will use it in multiple ways for our social media platforms, blogs, websites, etc. The second video is a narrative short film, with actors depicting stories related to the cause and mission of SMART.  We look forward to premiering these videos at our 25th Anniversary National Conference this September 20-22 in Itasca, IL. I am equally excited to tease that there will be other new and exciting announcements at the conference related to our branding efforts. I hope you will join us at the conference and share in opportunities that will help take our branding efforts to a new SMART level! Learn more about the conference.
  • Online Training Course Upgrades: We are very excited to have launched an upgrade to our Tier 2 Volunteer Meeting Facilitator Training in February. This upgrade enables training to begin immediately upon completion of online registration.  Additional enhancements improve the flow of the training, streamline the presentation of key SMART information and material, and improve support services.  We are also working on Tier 3 Professional Training for treatment professionals who support individuals seeking addiction recovery treatment and services.  This program will provide additional revenue and branding to SMART, and offer CEU credits and specialized content for treatment professionals.
  • Upgrades to Website & Online Toolbox: We are in the process redesigning our website and Toolbox. This project will allow us to represent our mission better, improve navigation, and meet the functional needs of those who come to our SMART website for support. This effort will also improve access and enhanced utilization of our most often accessed Toolbox, including the formatting, organization, and functionality of the documents and tools used by our SMART community. Our intended rollout is this May. I am thankful for the guidance and support of Anna Marie Murphy, our marketing consultant, and many knowledgeable Board Members and volunteers.
  • Technology Upgrades: SMART Recovery has realized tremendous growth in the number of meetings and volunteers in the last decade and must leverage current technology to support its continued growth challenges. Recent improvements at Central Office include higher performance computers, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) allowing remote access of information by our Board and staff, and improved network security. Equally important, Michelle Elkins, our Technology Committee Chair, has worked diligently to research, plan, and implement our Zoom and Discord platforms, both of which were recently and successfully rolled out to our SMART community. In both projects, she received significant support from many of our online volunteers. Zoom and Discord offer easier meeting access across mobile devices and are critical in advancing our online meeting capabilities. Our online meetings have already benefitted from improved audio and video features. Many have commented that the online meetings now feel more like face-to-face meetings, thanks to the option of our participants using video, in addition to audio to join the meeting.  We are also working to implement an enterprise database Sequel Query Language (SQL) in our office. Besides the ability to handle the volume of our organization’s information needs, this database will support improved analytics, empowering us to improve operating efficiencies, workflow, customer services, and general support. Click here to read about our improved SMART Recovery Online video meetings.
  • Governmental Affairs & Outreach: SMART Recovery continues to advance its efforts on Capitol Hill to recognize our history and program success in support of our global opioid and alcohol abuse crisis. These efforts are laying the groundwork to secure future appropriations at the Federal and state levels to support our operations and growth objectives. Current efforts are being spearheaded by David Koss, our Washington, D.C (and surrounding areas) Regional Coordinator, Board President Bill Greer, and Joe Gerstein, our past president, and SMART founder, with strong support from Mark Dann of the Secular Coalition for America. Click here to get a more detailed update on our recent efforts to introduce SMART Recovery to Congress.

While there are so many more projects we could outline, suffice it to say we are all working hard to support meeting our 5-year Strategic Plan growth objectives.  Achieving these objectives will lay a solid foundation with which to begin our next 25 years of making a larger global impact.


Pictured from left to right: Mark Ruth, Joanne Wyant, Katie Mackey, Jim Braastad, Jodi Dayton, Melina Gilbert, Christi Alicea

I want to thank the members of our Board of Directors and our small but mighty Central Office team. I included a CO staff picture to introduce you to the individuals who are working hard to support our SMART organization and volunteer community. These individuals invest the same level of dedication, passion, commitment, and focus on supporting our SMART mission as do our many volunteers. They work as a team, tirelessly, and with a can-do attitude to support the strategic, operational, financial, and customer service needs of the organization.

In closing, I look forward to attending my second SMART National Conference this September 20-22 in Itasca, IL.  It will mark the completion of my first year with SMART, and I will enjoy celebrating with our SMART Recovery Past, Present, and Future journey and accomplishments.

Thank you for all you do and for welcoming me as a member of your SMART family!

Mark Ruth, Executive Director

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