Tackling the Opioid Epidemic in the Lehigh Valley

At the request of an area-of-interest fundholder Barry Kessler in 2020, the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation embarked on an effort to better understand the opioid epidemic in the Lehigh Valley.  The Foundation engaged county governments and nonprofits addressing the issue, with the goal of identifying funding gaps where private philanthropy can make an impact. 

After a multitude of meetings and conversations, the research indicated the following general findings:

  • Federal dollars are flowing into opioid treatments and prevention, but there are gaps in funding where individuals and foundations can make an impact. 
  • Opioid use is just part of the problem. Spikes in opioid abuse are often followed by spikes in the use of methamphetamines, and evidence indicates that it is already underway. 
  • Alcohol consumption dwarfs drug use. This is really about Substance Use Disorders (SUDs).
  • Mental health is an underlying issue.

There are significant and notable cultural differences in awareness, willingness to seek support, and stigma reduction.

Substance Use Disorder Grants

At the conclusion of the exploratory process, the Foundation determined the focus for the grants would be to support substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services, in three specific areas:

  • Providing support services that focus on integration into a healthy lifestyle for individuals affected by substance use disorder.
  • Delivering clinical services, support services, and/or education to families and support networks of the individual affected by substance use disorder.
  • Providing culturally appropriate substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and/or recovery services for ethnic or racial minority populations.

Other considerations were given to projects that increase awareness and reduce stigma; support public policy and advocacy and other “big ideas” in the field.

2020 Grant Process

In February of 2020, Lehigh Valley Community Foundation invited fourteen organizations to apply for multi-year grants to address specific areas in the substance use disorder field. The Foundation sought to support areas that are not typically funded by federal or commonwealth sources but that are in need of financial support. Grants were issued to nonprofit organizations that are currently providing substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and/or recovery services.

The Foundation formed a Substance Use Disorder committee to discuss the issues and review the grant applications. The committee included a number of area experts in addition to Board representatives and staff.


2020 Grant Awards

In the spring of 2020, the Community Foundation issued three $10,000 grants from the Substance Use Disorder Fund. The grants funded the following organizations:

  • Recovery Revolution, Inc. - 'On the Road' to Revolution project provides transportation with a CRS to treatment
  • Speak Up for Ben, Inc. - Expansion of Family Counseling Capabilities project that supports a licensed therapist to offer more family counseling
  • Humanitarian Social Innovations (as fiscal sponsor) - Bridge Beyond Addiction project provides rent assistance for those entering sober living centers

Connecting People who Care to Causes that Matter

Barry Kessler

The Substance Use Disorder Fund was made possible through the interest and generosity of Barry Kessler. He began working closely with Foundation in 2019 to focus his charitable giving in support of programs to reduce food and housing insecurity. In 2020, he turned his focus on the opioid crisis in the Lehigh Valley.

"The Community Foundation’s work with Barry Kessler has been a great example of the melding of donor interests and Foundation work,” explained LVCF’s Erika Riddle Petrozelli.  “We have received feedback from Mr. Kessler that he greatly appreciates the connection to the Community Foundation and value we provide.”

“Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain,” noted Barry Kessler. “I believe it is a road to human suffering on a scale only an addict can know. It could destroy the very fabric of our society and I want to help in a targeted way to address the problem. LVCF has helped me find a way to focus on this critical health issue.”

“Our work with Barry has informed and strengthened his philanthropy,” Erika explained.  “He feels he can also be a better board member for nonprofits such as Northeast Community Center (Bethlehem).  He learns about other nonprofits, he understands issues more deeply, and he can make connections with confidence.” 

An example includes how the Foundation introduced him to Community Bike Works (CBW) in Allentown through the Spark grants program, and he has since connected CBW to Northeast Community Center (NCC). Plans are underway for CBW to host the build a bike program at NCC for the first time in 2021.  “It’s a true ripple effect, and it makes the donor feel good, and it makes us feel good, while together we help improve the quality of life in our region.  This is what we are here to do, connect people who care to causes that matter,” Erka concluded.