By Naeisha Rose
Kathleen Riddle, the founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit and substance abuse treatment center Outreach in Richmond Hill, officially stepped down Saturday after coming up with the idea for the organization 39 years ago.
“It is with mixed emotion, joy, pride, sadness and relief that I step back from my lead role at Outreach,” said Riddle before her June 30 retirement. “Serving as the leader of this incredible organization has been the greatest honor of my life.”
As Riddle transitions into a part-time advisory role, Debra Pantin former CEO of VIP Community Services, will become the new leader of the substance abuse center, which has facilities in Richmond Hill, Brooklyn and parts of Long Island.
“This decision, while difficult for any of us, is made easier by knowing the extraordinary capabilities and commitment of our boards of directors, our leadership and staff. It if further aided by the selection of an exceptional leader in the field, Debra Pantin,” said Riddle.
Before founding Outreach, Riddle, a Rosedale resident, was a drug education specialist and counselor in South Ozone Park at IS 226. After noticing the need for adolescent treatment for substance abuse in the New York City school system, she opened an assessment and referral site at a storefront in Glendale in 1980, according to a spokeswoman Debra Marrone.
Public demand for more services in 1983 led to a second assessment and referral site in Little Neck, which would later be moved to Bayside.
At its original Glendale location, Outreach had only three employees and operated on a $60,000 budget while serving eastern and western Queens by engaging individuals as young as 12 struggling with addiction and connecting them to treatment.
Outreach currently operates from eight locations and is a nationally recognized organization, with 300 employees, a $24 million budget and serving 4,000 people annually, according to Marrone. It also created its own institute, which trains 300 students annually in campuses in Queens, Long Island, Manhattan and White Plains, according to its website.
Outside of Outreach, Riddle continued to serve those battling addiction as the president of the New York State Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (1997-2001) and Therapeutic Communities of Association of New York (1992-1997), according to Marrone. She remains an active executive board member for both organizations and will continue to be an advocate for behavioral health treatment.
Outreach will continue to train its certified counselors to use behavioral health to help adolescents, women, women with children and adults battle alcohol and substance abuse. The organization helps addicts by creating a customized self-help approach that is age specific to aid addicts in improving their lives and obtaining lifelong recovery.
“Kathy Riddle is an icon in this area of behavioral health,” said Pantin. “It will be a challenge to fill her role at Outreach, but I vow to continue the fight to recognize treatment as a critical measure to address the life challenges stemming from addiction that allow people and their families to recover and move on to healthy lives.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose