'Generation Found' Screening Reveals Crucial Role Of Sober High Schools, Alternative Peer Groups

By John Lavitt 07/29/16

“Rather than focusing on the problem, the film offers solutions to problems that have affected our adolescence for far too long."

'Generation Found' Screening Reveals Crucial Role Of Sober High Schools, Alternative Peer Groups
Producer Amara Untermeyer & Co-Director Jeff Reilly at NoHo Generation Found Screening Photo: John Lavitt

At the Southern California premiere of the documentary Generation Found on Wednesday night, the packed house at Laemmle's NoHo 7 was deeply moved by the powerful account of Sober High Schools and Alternative Peer Groups (APGs) in Houston. Jeff Reilly, the wearer of many essential hats on the project (including co-director, producer, writer and editor) and producer Amara Untermeyer attended the screening. The meaningful doc tells the story of how sober high schools can save lives without preaching or waving flags. Rather, the filmmakers let the kids, the teachers, and the parents tell their own stories, slowly unfolding their journey before our eyes.

Although co-director and executive producer Greg Williams could not attend due to his advocacy efforts at the Democratic National Convention, the project feels like a definite addendum to The Anonymous People, his documentary about the new recovery advocacy movement. In a 2014 report by The Fix, A Language of Empowerment, the movement’s efforts to de-stigmatize addiction and highlight the success of long-term recovery were detailed. When asked why he chose to do Generation Found next and how it relates to the national drug crisis, Williams told The Fix:

“If we want to get serious about addressing the addiction epidemic in a holistic and comprehensive way, we absolutely must design health resources that meet the needs of young people. Addiction may certainly take a deep toll on older Americans, but it disproportionately impacts young people. If we can intervene and support a young person on a path to sustaining recovery from a young age, the economic, public safety, educational, and community rewards are boundless.”

Started in Houston over 40 years ago, the Alternative Peer Group model was designed to address the emotional, psychological, spiritual and social needs of teens struggling with substance abuse. By integrating peer support and fellowship with clinical practice, the APG model proved to be an effective way to address the explosion of drug use by youth during the 1970s. 

In Generation Found, today’s drug crisis is shown to be much worse than ever before, particularly in poorer neighborhoods where resources are scarce and addiction is rampant. Virtually all of the recovery high schools nationwide are located in affluent or strong middle-class communities. In contrast, the inner cities continue to suffer. As one African-American woman says at a local school meeting of worried parents and teachers, “We want to whoop everybody because we got whooped. Whooping don’t work … We can’t take a cookie cutter approach anymore while our children are dying.” 

In the wake of the national crisis, it seems surprising that with over 56,000 high schools nationwide, there are only 36 recovery high schools available to young people in need. In Houston, Archway Academy, the largest of these recovery high schools, is the central focus of the story. The documentary details the work of Sasha McLean, the Executive Director of the recovery high school, and her mentor-like relationship with two of the teenagers. Although she delivers a positive message, McLean does not shy away from the difficulties involved in educating adolescents with substance use disorders. 

The tagline for Generation Found is “‘Just Say No’ Was A Slogan. This Is A Revolution.” When asked by The Fix what he believes the film can accomplish, Jeff Reilly said, “Rather than focusing on the problem, the film offers solutions to problems that have affected our adolescence for far too long. By telling a community story, focused on real people and their successes, our audience can connect with them on a human level, and then we can open hearts and minds across the country.”

Generation Found is being distributed by Gathr Films and is slated to open theatrically nationally through an on-demand model on August 30, 2016. Already more than 100 screenings have been scheduled across the country. Learn how you can attend or champion a screening of your own in your community here.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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