David Markham has been at the helm of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism & Substance Abuse (GCASA) for more than a decade. Today, he retires from his job as its executive director.
Here the 65-year-old Markham introduces himself:
Since he started at GCASA in 2000, the organization has developed some notable new programs and won numerous national awards for both treatment and prevention programs.
The prevention efforts alone have received a government grant to head up a Drug-Free Communities Coalition (DFC) for Genesee County. In addition, they've received grants to mentor two other coalitions -- one in Orleans County and one in Lancaster/Depew.
They have earned such honors as: the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America's (CADCA) Got Outcomes! Award in the category of "Coalition as a Whole" in 2006; the National Exemplary Award from the National Association of State Alcohol/Drug Abuse Directors ('07) ; and selection as Coalition of the Year by CADCA ('07).
Below, Markham answers some questions about himself and his career.
Did you grow up wanting to pursue a career in the social work/mental health field?
No. My college degree was in philosophy, with a minor in sociology. My first job was as a psychiatric social worker trainee at Kings Park in Rochester. At that time, the Department of Mental Hygiene (which no longer exists) was awarding grants for people to pursue careers in social work. So I went back to school on a grant from them and got a master's degree in social work from SUNY Albany. As I got into the field, I gradually held positions with greater responsibility.
I understand you have a private practice in Brockport. What type of counseling do you do?
As a licensed clinical social worker, I kind of do it all. Most of my clients deal with stress-related problems like anxiety and depression. They might have problems with their families, at work...sometimes they're dealing with grief, too. I also do couples and family counseling.
How did you get into the administrative aspect of the social work field?
Having been a clinician, I felt I had ideas about how services could be organized more effectively and efficiently. It has kind of been a dual career of mine, because I’ve continued to have my own practice. I’ve found the two (clinical and administrative work) to be interrelated in an intimate way. The way I see it, the manager is like an architect, and the clinician is the general contractor he hires to carry out the plan. There are key processes that govern the way services are delivered and develop the ability to implement those services.
When and how did you come to GCASA?
I came in 2000. Before that, I had been the director of clinical operations at the Rochester Health Association, and about half of their programs were related to substance abuse. I left in 2000 and was looking for something else, and it just so happened that Sharon McWethy (GCASA's executive director at the time) was retiring.
What would you say has been your management philosophy during your 11 years at GCASA?
My overall philosophy is collaborative and participatory. I think it's important to understand what is important to all of the various stakeholders, whether these are clients, families, members of the community, etc. I guess I'd say I'm the opposite of an autocrat. I like to work in a way that elicits not just the cooperation, but the enthusiasm of the multiple stakeholders. That way, we can all work productively toward a common goal.
You are originally from, and currently live in, Brockport. Having worked in Genesee County through the DFC and through prevention, what has been your impression of the Genesee County community?
It's the most wonderful place I've worked in the world. And I'm not just sucking up -- I think it's the Garden of Eden. Everyone from the county executive to the Batavia city manager, to the schools to the legislature, has been great to work with. You get to know all of the officials on a very personal and collaborative level, and there's a great sense of overall collective welfare.
You don't get that in Monroe County--there's too much bureaucracy. It's more divided. There's not the kind of corruption (in Genesee or Orleans counties) that you see in Monroe County or Erie County, so it's easier to get things done. I think one of the reasons GCASA has won all these awards and been able to implement all these new programs is that the community is smaller and more tightly knit. The programs can be at a scale that's easier to design and implement.
The thing about both Genesee and Orleans counties is that even though these are rural communities, the people are very sophisticated. They're surprisingly well-educated. They have wonderful cultural opportunities because of their access to Buffalo and Rochester. So they have all the advantages of smaller, more tightly knit communities plus these cultural benefits.
The people I know (in Genesee County) are very good people. They have very good values and integrity. Working and living here has been extremely satisfying and fulfilling.
GCASA has been noted for giving employees the benefit of flexible schedules, as well as flexibility in how they manage their work projects. Some people in the business world would say this is the wrong thing to do, because it leads to a drop in productivity. How would you defend your workplace policies at GCASA?
At GCASA, we have created an atmosphere that I would like to believe is empowering to employees. And overall, it's been extremely effective. We get great outcomes, our employee satisfaction is pretty high, and we have one of the best workplaces in New York State. The fact that we've won national awards for our work says that we must be doing something right.
One thing that we, as managers, have to realize is that our employees are adults. They manage their own lives, and we should be able to respect their integrity and maturity. I don't understand why a lot of organizations feel they have to micromanage their employees. There is protocol (for workplace projects, etc.), sure -- but no one knows how to do the work better than the people who are actually engaged in it.
As a manager, my concern is with results -- which is why, when I started at GCASA, one of the first things I did was develop an outcome-based job description. A lot of job descriptions are output-based.
Our employees are adults, so we expect them to be able to get the work done (without having to micromanage them)...There are a lot of ways management works with employees to determine the "what." How they get there depends. Employees should always have opportunities to conduct themselves in a way that works for them, as long as they're getting their work done and as long as they're respecting their coworkers.
You had two young children who were killed by a drunk driver in 1993. How has that influenced your work in the field of alcohol and substance abuse?
Well, I was in the field beforehand -- that's the irony of it. It just goes to show that it can happen to anyone. I would have been doing the work I've been doing regardless. But has it influenced my enthusiasm and passion for the work? Absolutely. And I also think it has influenced my credibility when I speak at Victim Impact Panels. I try to be professional about it, but my personal experience is brought to bear.
A lot of these issues can be seen as academic, professional, or as policy issues, which they are. But these personal stories make it more real for folks. It's like (they say), "Reality is when it happens to you." Substance abuse is a lethal disease, whether we're talking about liver disease from alcohol abuse or silly nonsense like drinking and driving. Tragedies show the importance of a healthy and high-functioning community.
Do you have any words of advice for your successor?
Well, it's an easy transition, because John Bennett (former director of GCASA's treatment services) and I share a lot of the same values. I guess what I would say to John is, first of all, to be understanding of our collaborators and have healthy, meaningful, positive relationships with all stakeholders. We work across systems. I think what has made GCASA so successful is its great collaborative partners. It's a lot of work, but if we work to maintain those relationships, we'll be okay.
What do you plan to do now?
I'm going to continue with my private practice on a part-time basis. I've been working two jobs for years, and I'm finally at a point in my life where I can work just one. I'm also involved in a lot of activities for the Village of Brockport and for my church. Finally, I plan on spending more time with family -- I have seven children and 13 grandchildren.
Markham's birthday is Christmas Day. He will be 66.
For more information on GCASA, visit the organization's blog, GCASA Cares, at www.gcasacares.blogspot.com.