Doers and Dreamers – Marie Klementis Shultis

Heroin kills at least five times as many people now as it did in 2001 and most of us have felt, or know someone that has felt the impact of deaths by an overdose of this killer. Substance abuse of any kind can lead to this lethal addiction and ensuring that young people become aware of the dire affects of substance abuse is one of the  methods that will hopefully help to reverse this horrific trend.  This week’s Doer and Dreamer, Marie Klementis Shultis, is taking this issue head-on with a unique program that is utilizing peer counseling to influence young people with substance abuse issues.

Your name: Marie Klementis Shultis (pictured with Robbie Rivera, peer advocate, and Annie)

Business or organization: AWARENESS Inc(

I organize, train, and direct local youth in a not for profit prevention/early intervention substance abuse program for adolescents and young adults.  I have coordinated AWARENESS on a volunteer basis for the past 10 years since it’s inception as there hasn’t been enough funding for a salary,

What is your approach to your business or occupation that makes you unique?
AWARENESS is a dynamic peer to peer risk reduction program that actively engages adolescents, ages 16-24 who are referred to us by the courts, in early intervention with a focus on self reflection to further prevent substance abuse. This unique program utilizes the power of group activity and team teen bonding to identify their own issues and ultimately begin the process of behavioral change, all while being in a supportive, non-judgmental, nurturing environment. We empower youth to help each other to change the world. We are currently brainstorming ideas on a way to bring kids and animals together within the program. My rescue puppy Annie is in training to become a therapy dog as she helps youth feel at ease.

I helped local youth create AWARENESS, which was mentoring program, after an underage drinking party held by my daughter in my absence in 2006. We created the AWARENESS Substance Education Component, which uses a peer to peer approach, after a death on her prom night due to drunk driving in 2007. I believe youth are our future and they can assess what is going on around them and make changes much faster then adults. New York State has the highest rate of  heroin usage in the country and deaths by overdose among addicts has become increasingly more frequent. By using an evidence based, peer to peer program, we help them see addiction may start with marijuana, alcohol, or pill use. We have peers that educate youth by sharing their personal experiences so they can recognize the signs before it sneaks up on them. Youth who have chose not to use substances also benefit from volunteering. It helps them put into perspective that going to parties and participating in drug use is not as cool as it may appear. My dream is to be able to expand to do a prevention program to help younger children learn from older youth before they use, so in the future it would be viewed as uncool if you put substances in your body.

Where are you from originally?
I grew up in the Zena section of Woodstock, NY with my parents and two brothers. I was raised taking care of animals, we had sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and I had a horse from the age of 5 years old. My Dad would find animals that were being mistreated and bring them home for us to care for.

What brought you to the Kingston area and keeps you in this area?
I was born in Kingston, attended Kingston High School,resided in this area my entire life,got married and raised five children and have one grandson. Two of my children live locally, one of my daughters lives in London,the other lives in New Hampshire and my son, the only boy, is a Freshman at Northeastern University.

What is your favorite hangout in this area and why?
After raising five kids running to and from various activities it’s been a nice change of pace to get to hang out at home even if only on the weekend. Though in my free time I have started investigating the fine cuisine this area has to offer.

When you’re not in Kingston, what’s your idea of a wonderful city to visit, and why?
Boston, I get to visit my son at college and there are so many things to see. I love that you can walk everywhere.

Tell us something that we never would have guessed about you.
I was a NYS Baton Twirling Champion and also taught baton twirling lessons.