Sunset Park native Donna Mae DePola has truly been through it all, but has lived to tell her story.
The now 64-year-old President and CEO of The Resource Training Center (TRTC) suffered a childhood of sexual abuse from her father, cousin and neighbor. As a result, she became dependent on drugs and alcohol, until she sought treatment at age 35.
The full story is told in her self-published autobiography, Twelve Tins, which took DePola six years to write and two to edit.
Its a story of hope: what I went through as a child and how I turned it around and [now] help people who have the same issues that I did, DePola explained.
DePola is one of the founders of BRAVO and owned two delis and a restaurant in Bay Ridge during the 1970s.
I used drugs and worked as an EMT for 10 years, DePola recalled, adding that her cocaine habit cost her about $4,000 a week. No one knew I was addicted.
After a difficult recovery at Holliswood Hospital in Queens, DePola was diagnosed with depression as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She was getting high to escape all of the horrid memories.
Three years later, DePola was named marketeer of marketing at Holliswood and began working as a certified alcohol counselor. She decided to open up a school of her own for substance abuse counseling with the help of her longtime therapist. Thats when TRTC was born at 84th Street and Fourth Avenue.
You have to have it in your heart. Its a passion that turns into a career, DePola explained.
At TRTC, DePola and her staff educate counselors, who are often recovering addicts. We not only train them [for counseling] but in life skills, too, such as how to write a resume and how to dress for success. So many people who come into the field dont know how, she said. We teach them to be empathetic. There are no signs up that say, No this or No that. We want people to feel welcome. We are here to hopefully make your life better.
In 1994, DePola moved the TRTC to 39th Street in Sunset Park. Growing up on 54th Street and being a member of Community Board 7, she had strong ties to the neighborhood. In January, an out-patient facility opened, treating those with mental health issues and substance abuse. It is the only one of its kind in Southwest Brooklyn.
With a psychiatrist and medical doctor on staff, the most recent graduating class had 383 people. There are also other training centers in Manhattan, Queens and upstate in Buffalo and Beacon.
Services with substance abuse are often taboo, DePola said. We have a pill epidemic now and started a program in Staten Island called DeCAP: Drug, Consequence Awareness Panel.
In this program, anyone caught using or selling will have to go to a meeting in Staten Island. There is a room full of struggling users and their families, along with a set of parents who have lost a child to pills. The parents tell their story.
We dont allow questions. We say that we have five to seven counselors and if you and anyone you know wants to ask questions, [they will help you with addiction issues], DePola explained, noting that the unforced assistance saves lives.
The TRTC also has a partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and has a Drinking Driver Program as well as CASAC classes.
DePola currently lives in Queens with her partner, Dona Pagan, who also works at the TRTC as vice president and as a recovery coach.
Its a passion, this work, DePola said. We want to give back to other addicts and alcoholics.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Twelve Tins