While the Africentric Personal Development Shop may not be well known by the Greater Columbus community, CEO Jerry Saunders Sr. says it has the most important factor down — street credibility.
Since 1988, the Near East Side nonprofit has quietly helped take care of the community. Saunders joined APDS in 1997.
“On the front of our building, it says making families healthier and safer,” Saunders says. “I’m aware that when people are well off and they get counseling, it’s usually very confidential. We’re set up to serve people who may not have the funds to receive such services, and I believe it’s important for them to have confidentiality just as it they would have if they could pay for the psychologist or for the substance abuse counselors.”
It’s a delicate balance, though, because sometimes maintaining confidentiality means people in the neighborhood don’t know what APDS does.
The behavioral health care center specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy and education classes to prevent, treat and eliminate substance abuse and domestic violence. Recently, APDS focused on its top three programs — substance abuse outpatient treatment, domestic violence intervention education for male batterers and youth prevention services through a summer day camp.
By paring back its broader approach, the nonprofit hopes to make a bigger impact, Saunders says.
“My passion is to help people help themselves,” he says, adding that APDS has found that it is important to treat the entire family, so he’d like to add family therapy programs in the future.
After more than two decades helping people with substance use disorders, this summer APDS added medication-assisted treatment in response to the opioid epidemic. The programs are isolated, with different waiting rooms and classrooms to keep from triggering someone in a sobriety program.
Domestic violence is another area of expertise. APDS provides education classes to more than 200 male batterers annually.
“We provide those services to the perpetrator because our focus is about making families healthier and safer, and we saw that with a number of our clients, the victim was dropping them off and picking them up for their counseling sessions. We knew they were still involved, unless they had a stay-away order, so that impacted the children,” Saunders says.
APDS also puts on a nine-week summer enrichment program for 120 youth ages 6 to 12. Saunders says the idea is to enhance their lives so they won’t need the services of an agency like APDS when they become teenagers and adults.
One challenge after another
The work isn’t easy for the 11 full-time staff, two contractors and dozen summer employees at the Africentric Personal Development Shop.
“You have to be very committed to and caring about people,” Saunders says.
Failure is common. A good success rate for a substance use disorder program, on a national level, is 48 percent.
“For us at APDS, that’s unacceptable — that’s saying that half the people will be successful,” Saunders says. “I understand that this is a very serious illness that we’re addressing, but we’re doing our best to get above that.”
APDS’ goal this year is a success rate of 52 percent.