I’m thrilled that Mary Ferreri, President & Founder of Emerald School of Excellence is my Profile in Advocacy this week.
For nine years, Mary has been a Physical Education and Health Teacher. Her leadership roles and creative ways to keep students engaged have been her strengths.
Her genuine passion for helping students thrive and be lifelong learners has led her down this path to help students in recovery from substance use disorders. She personally had a tough time in high school; even though she was a strong soccer player, she faced a battle with anorexia.
Mary is working to change our perspective on addiction. She hopes to bring people together to do something positive for our youth who are in the midst of addiction; they need a strong network of people who care about them and provide boundaries, accountability, and hope.
Mary believes in strong core values and providing students with the necessary tools to face the inevitable challenges that life brings. Learn more about the exciting work she’s doing to open the first recovery high school in North Carolina.
- Advocate, from Latin advocatus means “one called to aid (another)”. What moves you to aid others in this way?
I know that God has placed it on my heart to do all that I can to serve others. I have learned that through pain there is purpose, and my past can be utilized to help in connecting with people so that we can all recover together.
- What’s the single most important character trait that makes an effective advocate?
Respect and Courage. It takes courage to stand up and speak out for what is right, but we must do it with respect. Our words are powerful but if we can speak in a way that expresses love, faith, and hope and not stigma, shame, and negativity…. Then we can change the world.
- Share with us an advocacy story from your work – one in which you are most proud or where you learned the most.
Something in my soul, believes that a former student came into my life to change my life and to help me to understand how addiction and mental illness can take over quickly or over time and what can be done to help someone or hurt someone. Over 11 years ago, I met an 8th grader who had been through some very tough times. We connected and I felt compelled to share my struggles with anorexia, depression, and self-harm when I was in high school and how I am able to turn my negative energy into serving others. We bonded and I am still close with her to this day. She is serving a sentence for trafficking heroin, but she had a piece of my heart and forever will. She is like family to me and I will forever be there for her. She is a firework. She will show the world her light just at the right time. If we allow our young people into our hearts, they can transform us; they are the future but we must listen to them and provide platforms for their leadership skills to flourish.
- When you look back, how will you measure your success as an advocate?
How long people talk about my work after I am dead and gone. Like Macklemore says, I heard you die twice, once when they bury you in the grave, and the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name. I do hope it isn’t after one week.
- Tomato-based or vinegar?
Sweet honey BBQ
BTW, UNC Charlotte will be hosting a screening and panel discussion of the recovery high school documentary film Generation Found next Friday, November 16th from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Mary will be on that panel with our own Donald McDonald. Follow this Facebook Event link to learn more.
Have suggested topics for Advocacy 101 or know someone we should feature in Profile in Advocacy, do let me know.
Until next time,
Kathleen Lowe, MSW
Policy & Advocacy Specialist