Rise Recovery Staff Spotlight: Sarah Waltz

Sarah Waltz, New Gens Coordinator

Here at Rise, we have a place for everyone and it includes our New Generations program, or as we call them, New Gens. But what is it about New Gens that makes them so unique and such a necessary component of the work we do? We stopped by to chat with Sarah Waltz, our New Gens Coordinator, to speak on the importance of the New Gens youth program, and why breaking the cycle can be a breakthrough for their future.

So, tell me about yourself and what you do at Rise Recovery.
My name is Sarah, I’m an LCSW or Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I work with the New Gens at Rise Recovery. New Gens are a group of kids 9-17 that have a loved one that use substances. So, my group is kids that don’t use, but have a loved one that do.

How does New Gens relate to you, and what is the importance of New Gens?
Both of my parents are addicts. I grew up in a household before I met my dad with my mom who was cooking meth in our apartment and selling drugs. It was not a good situation. And it was challenging going to school every day and not being able to talk about the things going on at home because it was so taboo. I didn’t have a safe space to talk about things, and that’s what New Gen is for. For kids to have a safe space to talk about things at home, and not feel judged and feel heard. We have kids that can be like “oh, been there!”

What do you believe is the importance of the New Gen when it comes to Rise Recovery?
So, we talk a lot about addiction being a family disease at Rise. Often times the New Gens are, if you look at dynamics, the lost kids; the lost children in the family. Because New Gens are generally going to be the kids that see their sibling or their parents struggling and they’re going to be the perfect little angel; “I will cause no waves, I will make sure that I do nothing bad so that all the attention can go on the person that’s using. I am going to make sure that there’s some homeostasis in my home.”
And when that happens, we as new gens, we’re pushing our feelings down, we’re masking our feelings a lot, it’s one of those things where I’m going to make sure everyone else is okay before I make sure that I am okay. And for our group, we try to encourage advocating for ourselves, although it’s challenging and we have a funny little saying of #newgens (hashtag new gens.) That’s how we call each other out. We try to make sure it’s a place where they can share their feelings and feel open and vulnerable to put themselves first.

So, you’re not just Rise Recovery’s New Gen Coordinator you’re also a licensed social worker. Can you talk a little bit about that, and how you apply what you learned to your work here?
Of course. I really like the fact that I’m not only able to work with the New Gens, but also I am able to go into the schools. I go into Harlandale and Alamo Heights high schools as well, to conduct groups similar to how the APG (alternative peer group) does for youth. I think that’s really cool that I can float and provide services for different groups. Something that I would like to do that I haven’t been able to do that will utilize my social work background is family counseling; so, getting all parties together. I think that would just be so cool and something that I learned I’m really good at is getting all parties together and on the same page. I’m able to work on the Youth Systems of Care Task Force with the Kronkosky Foundation along with other leaders in the community. And basically, in that task force we’re trying to put together strategies on how to make it more of like a one-stop shop for youth who need service. Making it to where if youth A is coming to Rise Recovery, but then they also need to go to CHCS (Center for Healthcare Services) for example, then they don’t need to retell their whole story to CHCS. How can we make it where it’s more fluid and easier and less traumatic for youth seeking multiple services?

I know we touched on what we want for you in the future. What type of legacy do you want to leave here at Rise when it comes to the New Gens program?
What I would want to happen with New Gens is to see that program really grow and flourish which we have done. I started back in November of 2021, and we had two maybe three kids coming regularly, and now we’re back up to a total of 15 with 10-12 regularly coming. And I think what I would like to see for New Gens is a big group like the youth has where there are 40 regular kids, and we can have a steering committee; the youth call it a PAC peer advisory council, but that’s what I would like to see for New Gens where they are really taking the lead and ownership while the staff is just there to govern and guide as needed. I would really like to see our older youth taking some leadership roles and being able to help plan and maybe run group meetings like how youth bring topics for their meetings. I think a really good goal would be at Families in Recovery next year for us to have as many New Gens present as the youth APG… I want them to be there and represent; like “we’re here too, guys!”

What type of advice would you give someone who’s starting out in New Gens?
I would tell them you don’t have to follow the same path as their loved ones. Breaking stigma and breaking cycles are challenging, but it’s doable. I have firsthand experience. Nobody in my whole entire family went to college before me and both sides of my parents’ families-grandparents- are alcoholics or addicts. Everybody in my family has dealt with substance use, and here I am, not an addict. How I did that was by seeing what happened and how their lives turned out and knowing that I didn’t want my life to be that way. So, just really encouraging them that you know you can make different decisions. You can make changes, and you can be the person that breaks the cycle in your family.

What is your favorite thing about working with New Gens?
They’re all just so funny, and the best thing is they love being in New Gens. Last week I was talking to a parent after group and their kids had only been here one time before and that evening, they had tickets for a Missions baseball game and the kids said, “I don’t want to go to the baseball game. I want to go to Rise Recovery. I want to go to group.” The reason they gave was that they felt safe to share, and number two, it’s so fun. So that’s the most amazing thing, and I love that they want to be here, that they want to come hangs out, that this is a safe space because so many kids don’t have that, and to be able to have that, not only with trusted adults, but with peers experiencing similar situations? *Chef’s kiss!*

What is your favorite part of working at Rise Recovery?
I just love being here. So many people on staff are not just coworkers; they’re friends and some even I consider family. I just think that every day I want to come to work, because if it’s not the kids I’m interacting with, then it’s my coworkers that I love. When I’m here I’m always laughing, and having a good time; it doesn’t even really feel like work. It’s amazing.