A simple three-legged stool is the symbol of Rev. Peter Young’s lifetime of work, and he uses it to explain his successful model for rehabilitating addicts. The three requirements for success are treatment, housing and employment. Missing one leg, the stool cannot stand. Contact: www.pyhit.com ~ Donations: The Peter G Young Foundation, 40 Eagle Street, Albany, NY 12207 ~ (518) 463-8485.
About Rev. Peter Young, Founder
Peter Young came to this understanding through his half century of work with the disenfranchised of his Albany parish. The parish he was assigned to was in what was called the “combat zone.” He spent the first 18 years of his ministry giving his all—quite literally. By 1976, he was near bankruptcy. He had racked up a personal debt of more than $200,000 trying to lift up his parishioners. And he was fast becoming an expert on overcoming addiction.
His financial salvation came in the guise of a full-time job as chaplain of the state-run McGregor Correctional Facility. Added to the 18 years he’d already spent ministering to the needs of local inmates at the county jail, his 15-year tenure at McGregor gave Father Young a seasoned perspective on addiction, crime, and recovery.
He didn’t need to have the statistics recited to him—70% of inmates owe their incarcerations to substance abuse problems—he witnessed it first-hand. Father Young chose to address the problems he saw within the existing framework, but without accepting the status quo. His approach has been to work with the state to promote legislative and regulatory change that makes a difference. His first coup, shortly after he started at St. John’s, was to introduce legislation that removed public intoxication from the penal code.
Father Young also learned the value of good contacts: with the help of then-Governor Rockefeller, Young developed the state’s first alcohol crisis center and extended care facility.
Not resting on his laurels, Father Young worked with the New York State Department of Corrections to create the first Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment program. The program relies on the principles of Father Young’s stool: full recovery is only possible in concert with housing and employment.
Outside the prison walls and the rigors of his full-time job, Father Young worked just as hard, building up the other two legs of the stool. As part of his program, clients first go through treatment to shed their addictions. They then are provided housing, so that life on the street doesn’t send them right back to their addiction. Finally, employment provides income, purpose and independence. If just one of the three support prongs is removed, the success rate drops dramatically. Over the years, he has established a network of recovery programs, counseling and education services, housing, and job training. The services often exist as part of a joint venture with various state programs and grants—making for a successful public/private partnership.
Since 1959, the amalgam of services that have Peter Young’s name on them have been known as Peter Young Housing, Industries and Treatment (PYHIT). In 1992, when Father Young bid farewell to his job at the correctional facility (and retired his debt), there were 41,000 inmates enrolled in rehab programs he’d helped create.
PYHIT helps more than 5,000 people every day through its various treatment and residential programs. Father Young’s success is undeniable: PYHIT boasts a recidivism rate of less than 10 percent. Eighty-five percent of its clients return to productive lives. PYHIT operates more than 118 sites in counties across New York State on a $10 million annual budget. Over the 50 years of its existence PYHIT has helped hundreds of thousands move from addiction to becoming tax-paying members of society.
To ease the transition, Father Young promotes the concept of the “wounded healer.” He believes that successfully recovering addicts are the best teachers for those not as far along the path—and he asks people in his program to espouse the same philosophy. The result is enhanced self-esteem and a renewed sense of hope and purpose. Father Young loves to call it the “glidepath” to recovery, drawing comparisons between the wounded healer support system and the guided support a plane needs to land on an aircraft carrier.
Past the age when most people retire, Father Young continues his tireless devotion to people in recovery. Ever on the move, he’s a flurry of activity: cell phone calls, emails in his distinctive font, personal visits with those down on their luck. Despite the “busyness” of his life, he never forgets he is, first and foremost, a priest. “You’ll never see him without his collar, and every Sunday, he says the 4:00 pm mass. It gives him the greatest joy,” said Andy Korts, Father Young’s long-time secretary.
This year, as Father Young celebrates 50 years of bringing hope to those in need, perhaps he’ll slow down just long enough to reflect on the enormous, positive change he’s brought to the lives of so many in New York.