Nick DeMauro has been involved in alcohol and drug prevention programs for students for more than two decades. And he's never seen it this tough.
The demand for the services of the organization he runs, L.E.A.D., or Law Enforcement Against Drugs, is off the charts, he said.
Communities and school boards, scared of the ongoing opioid epidemic that seemingly is in every town in the state — rich/poor, urban/suburban — are reaching out to L.E.A.D. for guidance and leadership.
“The demand has far exceeded our resources,” he said. “The demand is incredible. The phone rings off the hook.
“I only have three staffers, so I have to bring in part-timers to answer the phone. The demand is that ridiculous. We haven’t advertised at all, yet we’re getting calls every day from throughout the country.”
It’s the reason DeMauro and his staff have begun reaching out to the business community.
“Everyone says they are looking for a way to help,” he said. “This is a great way. We’re trying to get Corporate America involved. We’re trying to get them to take ownership at the local levels.”
The idea, DeMauro said, is simple.
“We believe that an investment in L.E.A.D. is an investment in the community that positively impacts the children,” he said. “Because when local companies become a sponsor, they become part of the community that’s dedicated to preventing opioid drug addiction, bullying and violence.”
Donations, he said, go almost entirely to the program.
“There is very little overhead,” he said. “The money goes back into classroom programming, materials for the students, training officers and supporting the delivery of instruction. Essentially, the money goes to help provide a healthier, safer community for everyone to live.”
DeMauro has been the executive director and CEO of L.E.A.D. since May 2015.
Prior to that, he ran the New Jersey chapter of D.A.R.E. — which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education — for nearly two decades.
DeMauro left in a dispute over the new curriculum national D.A.R.E. leaders wanted to implement. He feels New Jersey students are better served with the L.E.A.D. program.
“We’re an ATOD program, which means we meet New Jersey standards for alcohol, tobacco, opioids and drugs, which other programs don’t,” he said. “Others feel you can just teach about decision-making and risk factors. We don’t agree with that.
“Our first five lessons are social, emotional learning, appropriate to grade level. The next five include a whole lesson on drugs, a whole lesson on alcohol, a whole lesson on marijuana, a whole lesson on tobacco and then a conclusion.”
DeMauro said the response has been terrific.
“The police chiefs and the school superintendents felt it was time for us to get a more comprehensive initiative, using proven-effective curricula,” he said. “That’s how L.E.A.D. was born. And we’re lucky to partner with the Mendez Foundation, which has the most proven-effective curriculum on the market.
“We’re really excited about the direction we’re going in.”
According to DeMauro, L.E.A.D. is in more than 250 communities in the state — or more, he said, than D.A.R.E. was in its final years in New Jersey.
And while the program is based in Allentown, it also works in more than 50 schools in other states.
DeMauro said every dollar counts; that’s why L.E.A.D. developed a corporate partnership program.
“We are asking corporations to fund a five-year commitment at $15,000 per year,” he said. “Of that, $5,000 would go to a L.E.A.D. program in the classroom; $5,000 goes to an anti-bullying program, which is a partnership with STOP IT anti-bullying, which is an app that we purchase for schools; and $5,000 goes to L.E.A.D. in New Jersey for research and development.
“But if a corporation says they can only give us $5,000 per year, then it’s $5,000. And that’s OK.”
Some companies already have answered the call.
Merck, in Kenilworth, contributes $7,500 a year to the program. Newark-based PSEG and UBS, which has offices throughout the state, are among a handful of others contributing $5,000.
Other contributors include Beau Dietl & Associates; Cipolla & Co. LLC; Conner, Strong & Buckelew; NCIC Inmate Phone Services; Northeastern Interior Services; Roman & Assoc. Inc.; Preferred Freezer Services; and GL Group.
Families and foundations, including Kenneth & Elaine Langone and the Grano Family Foundation, also have contributed.
DeMauro said it costs approximately $1,000 to fund one program for one year at one school. And he notes L.E.A.D has just started an associate member program, where people can donate as little as $100.
“Everybody says, ‘How can we help,’ ” he said. “This is how. We’re trying to get Corporate America involved and we’re trying to get them to take ownership at the local levels. But we don’t want to be greedy. Our $15,000 ask is designed for the Mercks of the world, not small businesses.”