Massena, NY (June 12, 2019) – Throughout his life, Bobby Knepp, 32, of Massena, NY, has battled demons that come with growing up believing adult addiction and childhood sexual and physical abuse are normal. He was about five before when he realized it isn’t and 10 when he turned to alcohol and drugs, himself, to cope and escape.
By age 16, Knepp was using and dealing opioids. “It started with Vicodin that a girlfriend stole from her grandparents. They’d get two of those big bottles every month. It was like candy land for us,” he said. “We would fill our pockets up and every day for three years, we were snorting, like 40 plus pills a day and selling the rest.”
The years that followed were a downward substance abuse spiral that came with relationship turmoil, nights in jail, unemployment and losing custody of one of his children. In June of 2015, Child Protective Services (CPS) referred Knepp to St Lawrence County Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., which serves as an alternative to lock-up and institutional placement. YAP enrolled and assigned Knepp to Advocate Wendy Leduc. Clean, herself, for 15 years, Leduc knew first-hand that fighting addiction while rebuilding your life is a hard-fought journey.
YAP has operated for 44 years and is now in 100 communities in 24 states and the District of Columbia, serving young people and families through contracts with child welfare, re-entry, youth justice and behavioral health systems as well as drug courts and substance abuse treatment programs. YAP Advocates are paid mentors who live in the communities of those they serve. They’re trained to provide intensive individualized mentoring, help individuals design blueprints for their lives, and provide families with resources and tools that reinforce their foundations.
With the growing opioid crisis, YAP has been uniquely positioned to identify and address gaps that exist in most current substance use recovery systems of care. In St. Lawrence County and other communities, YAP is employing specially trained Parent Recovery Advocates to address one of the gaps in the recovery process.
“There are a number of gaps in most current substance use service delivery systems and a shortage of best practices in addressing them. There is a consensus among experts that what yields the best chance for long term recovery is the implementation of individualized, flexible and person-centered approaches that address diverse needs. YAP’s Recovery Advocate Program builds upon the nonprofit’s guiding principles and core framework, blending holistic, evidence-informed strategies to meet individuals where they are and in a manner that works for them,” said YAP National Director of Substance Use Services Virginia Hoft. “Because of their life experience, YAP Recovery Advocates have expertise that professional training cannot replicate. Our commitment to quality and innovation drives our ongoing review and exploration of the most up-to-date information on how best to address the limitations of communities’ recovery services continuums,” she added.
For Knepp, enrollment in YAP meant for the first time, being open and really honest about his addiction and his life. He told Leduc about the son he fathered when he was 19 and how while he was away at rehab, the baby’s mom took off and his mother kicked him out and completed the process of gaining custody of the baby. He was quickly back to moving from one friend’s couch to another and “abusing and slinging” opioids. Two weeks after he met his next girlfriend, Knepp landed in jail. When he got out, he learned she was pregnant. A few months of sobriety ended after the she gave birth and got a prescription for Vicodin. It wasn’t long before Percocet was added to the mix and then Fentanyl, which Knepp says “destroys you; destroys families; it’s worse than heroin.”
Knepp’s involvement with CPS was the result of a violent domestic dispute that ended with neighbors calling the police. The couple eventually split, but he remained close to her family. “Her grandmother was really supportive. She let me move in with the kids. That really helped me. I ended up getting my own place; got a new girlfriend. I was clean for nine months. Then when I was 25, the wrong person came around with a patch.”
Failing a drug test is what brought him to YAP. “It didn’t take long for Wendy to learn what kind of person I am and the kind of advice I need. She was there to tell me the sh*t I didn’t want to hear,” he said. “She really helped me focus on my recovery. That’s what I needed; a friend that knew what to do in certain situations. I owe a huge part of my life to her.”
Knepp easily shares examples of how over the next few years, Leduc went “far and beyond.” After he re-established primary custodial care of his three younger kids, he said Leduc was the adult willing to be present during their supervised visits with their mom, which jump started the cordial, co-parenting relationship they have today.
Another time, when his government-supported food subsidies were cut back, she brought bags of groceries from the local food pantry for six months straight.
“I put that woman through the ringer,” Knepp said, describing a time in early 2018, when he was back in rehab and saw personally what YAP’s no reject-no eject policy looks like. “Out the door I went when I finished the treatment, and she was right there.”
“She was there when it mattered most,” he said, recalling a day more recently when he and his girlfriend were breaking up. “I was so distraught; I called Wendy and told her I feel like I’m back at my bottom; I said I want to be high, get drunk. She quit what she was doing, came over and took me out to lunch.”
Today, Knepp is working full-time as a certified nursing assistant and investigating options for his next career move. More important, he has been opioid free for nearly a year, which is also a record for him.
While Leduc has moved on from YAP to a position with the Franklin County Department of Social Services, Knepp knows that she will always be his friend and as he continues his recovery, YAP still has his back.
“Dealing with addiction is very up and down. YAP isn’t clock-in and clock-out support. A YAP worker is dedicating a big part of their lives to help other people. For that group of people to decide to do work just to help kids and parents and families, it’s breathtaking. It’s life support.”
Note: On Thursday, June 27, 2019 from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m., St. Lawrence County Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. staff and partner agencies and businesses will gather with individuals and families served by the nonprofit in celebration of its 20th anniversary. The event takes place at 3 Remington Ave., Canton, NY. For more information, please call 315-379-0518.