By Kaylor Jones / Photos by Claudia Johnstone
With 22 years of experience in the nonprofit community under her belt, new chief executive officer of notMYkid and mother of two, Kristen Polin, is dedicated to educating and inspiring youth and families across the nation.
Born in New York and raised in Connecticut, Polin received her bachelor’s degree in health promotion and disease prevention studies at Ithaca College. From there, she moved to the Grand Canyon State to begin her path of a rewarding career in community service.
After earning a master’s degree in education program management from the University of Phoenix, Polin began working as an addiction counselor at Community Bridges, Inc. (CBI), a behavioral health agency in Arizona that provides mental health services and critical addiction recovery.
During the span of just one month at CBI, she lost six clients to heroin overdose. “That hit me hard, and I realized where I really wanted to be was on the other side of those doors, raising awareness in the community about addiction and focusing on the importance of prevention,” says Polin, who began sharing the story of her own struggle with drugs and alcohol in high school and building a successful prevention and community outreach program at the agency.
“My journey at CBI lasted 17 years,” Polin says. “[At that point], it was time to move on, focus on my family, and explore what else was out there for me.”
In 2017, just five months later, Polin met the founder of notMYkid, Debbie Moak, and all of the puzzle pieces fell into place. “Debbie helped me find an organization that aligned with what I love most with this work, prevention and early intervention,” she says.
A Scottsdale-based nonprofit, notMYkid utilizes prevention education programs to inspire youth to make positive life choices. With a special focus on behavioral health topics such as drug and alcohol addiction, depression and self-harm, notMYkid aims to empower children and families with the knowledge needed to identify and prevent negative youth behaviors.
“I came in at the entry level, worked hard and was given amazing growth opportunities to develop programs, lead dynamic teams, touch all levels of operations, and set on a path to finally have a shot at leading an organization I love so dearly,” shares Polin, who was named notMYkid’s new CEO in February.
Communicating with Care
Polin’s everyday interactions at notMYkid are shaped by her roles as a wife and mother. The experience of having two teenage sons, ages 14 and 16, only adds to the accountability Polin feels to practice what she preaches in her day-to-day life.
“I’ll never hold back from parents who need to hear about my struggles and fears with raising teenagers,” Polin says. “I have seen the dark side of experimental drug use so often that it’s easy for me to fear that my kids could go down that path. That fuels my passion to closely monitor my own kids, keep the conversation going, and ask them how they are really doing.”
According to Polin, this honest and simple approach to effective communication with her children helps her connect with families who share the same concerns. Being transparent about these uncertainties helps others understand they are in good company when it comes to worrying about raising a teenager.
“I am right there with them, and I want parents to know they are not alone,” Polin says. “It’s an overwhelming shift and it can be a lonely time. Some parents think they are the only ones experiencing the struggle of raising a teen in this day and age, but it is an entirely new realm for all of us.”
While Polin inspires others, she notes that she is inspired by being around people who have the strength to share their own personal experiences, goals and hopes. In a world where many prefer to showcase the best versions of themselves online, she finds that this brave, refreshing vulnerability fosters an immediate connection with the surrounding community.
“I get the privilege of watching this firsthand at notMYkid, surrounded by a group of caring and passionate people who share their stories as peers to help and support others every single day,” Polin says.
With notMYkid entering its 20th year, Polin aims to increase community engagement and continue growing the organization’s prevention and education programs. Special efforts will be made in developing even more quality programs in two of their main areas of focus: the opioid epidemic and climbing youth suicide rates.
“I plan to look at all the gaps in the prevention continuum to ensure kids are learning basic life skills at school and help students better understand brain health and how to take care of their minds and bodies” Polin says. “Our children are struggling, and we need to make sure they know how to ask for help and who to turn to when they need it. Kids need to know that they matter, and notMYkid is dedicated to assuring them that through our programs.”
For more information about notMYkid and opportunities to help, visit www.notmykid.org.