Look around the room in SUNY Broome’s Chemical Dependency Counseling program, and you’ll find that everyone has a story.
Sometimes, it’s a sought-after career change. Other times, it can be a deep desire to help after witnessing a loved one’s struggle with addiction, or a chance to give back after battling a difficult past.
“I think we all have a story. I think my story would make a good movie,” said Marc Brainard, who is poised to earn his Chemical Dependency Counseling degree and already works in the field.
Brainard, who also earned his Associate’s degree in Individual Students from SUNY Broome, is on the front line battling opioid addiction in the region. He works for the Addiction Center of Broome County’s mobile service, responding throughout Tioga County to people in the throes of addiction.
On-call treatment providers visit people in need and assess them, trying to get them into treatment, he explained. Brainard has been on the job since August. It’s tough, but he loves it – the chance to “get his hands dirty,” as he puts it, and make a real impact in people’s lives.
“You witness some things — people who are seriously broken, who are in a really bad place,” he reflected. “It’s never been done before; there’s no formula. We’re creating it as we go along.”
In the beginning
Before Marc Brainard began working in the addictions field, before he returned to college, he worked in a group home for 10 years, helping troubled young people. Wind back the clock to his youth, and that’s where his own story – or part of it – begins: at the age of 15, being sent to a facility in Syracuse because of behavioral problems.
“The trouble didn’t stop there,” he said, noting that he struggled throughout his 20s.
His troubled years, however, helped him relate to his young charges in Owego. “I understood what it’s like to go somewhere and everything is different, even your pillow, and the only thing you have are the clothes on your back,” he said.
While working as the assistant manager of the group home, he and his fiancée adopted Will Gladney, who was sent to more than two dozen foster and group homes during his childhood. Will was a high school sophomore at the time, giving Brainard’s son Kingston an instant older brother.
Today, Will is a sophomore at Ithaca College, where he also excels on the football team as a wide receiver. He’s a busy guy, juggling games, practice and classwork, but talks on the phone with his adoptive family each night.
To live is to strive
The group home job ended, leaving Brainard to contemplate his future and only a GED under his belt. His parents and his fiancée encouraged him to attend college and he enrolled in SUNY Broome, hoping to eventually major in the Physical Therapist Assistant program, which has a competitive admissions process.
As a long-time bodybuilder and a youth basketball coach, the program seemed like a logical fit. But as he applied for the program, he started to feel ambivalent; maybe he was meant to work with people in a different way, he pondered.
After two years, he didn’t get in.
Feeling defeated, he happened to run into Professor Mary Whittaker, coordinator of the Chemical Dependency Counseling program, just a few minutes after he found out. They met in her office, and Brainard’s future came into focus. The new major felt right, and he found out that he had earned enough credits already for another Associate’s degree, the one in Individual Studies.
“I’m happy that it happened like it did,” he said.
Going to college provided a little intimidating at first, but Brainard has been able to build a rapport with his classmates. Students in the Chemical Dependency Counseling program tend to skew older – “non-traditional,” according to the terminology used in higher education
Like many non-traditional students, he has needed to juggle school with family life, a full-time job and coaching. It’s been tough, but worth it. Part of his secret: No procrastination; he always hits his deadlines. As long as he’s awake, he is always working on something.
He also credited his professors for offering guidance and support – and teaching him how to learn again. Professor Whittaker and Professor Diane Kelly particularly had a deep impact on his education and future course.
“It’s been life-changing not just for myself, but for my family,” he said of his time at SUNY Broome.
Looking ahead, Brainard plans to continue his role as a father, a counselor – and a student. He hopes to finish his bachelor’s degree, likely through Excelsior College, which offers online learning options.
Above all, he hopes never to be complacent. Rather, he strives to keep on moving and improving, and to never sit still. “I want to keep creating options for myself and keep providing resources for my family,” he explained.
“To be finishing school right now, it’s an enormous thing for me,” Brainard said. “I’ve come a long way and I’ve grown a lot.”