Next Doors: A Place to Be Well
notMYkid helps young people battle addiction and the effects of the pandemic
It was just one pill. But it created one of the most heartbreaking tragedies imaginable.
Megan Macintosh’s 18-year-old son Chase went to see friends one night in January 2021. She didn’t fully understand the ramifications at the time, but Chase had started experimenting with drugs — Percocets, specifically, an opioid-based painkiller — a few weeks before. But on this evening, the pill he took wasn’t a Percocet. It was fentanyl — and it led to an overdose that caused his death.
“It caught us totally off guard,” Macintosh said. “He started experimenting in December, and he was dead just a month later. And I know he had trauma, and I know he was feeling lonely and depressed, and I was with him through all that. But because he was 18, he made the decision one night to do something that felt right to him in that kind of undeveloped part of the brain. He did it, and the long-term effects have shattered outward and affected many other people.”
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, an unthinkable turn of events that’s heartbreaking even to consider. It’s hard to imagine anything positive coming out of such a tragedy.
But Megan Macintosh must be wired a little differently than most people — because what happened next took an astonishing amount of inner strength and willingness to help others.
First, Macintosh decided that Chase’s memorial service would be an opportunity to teach Chase’s friends a critical life lesson.
“I knew that a lot of his friends would be there, and I wanted to be sure I spoke very frankly to this crowd,” she said. “I wanted this event to be sobering in a way that probably nothing in their lives would be.”
At the time, Macintosh was a yoga instructor. One of her students and friends happened to be Kristen Polin, the CEO of Phoenix-based nonprofit notMYkid. Polin attended the service, heard Macintosh’s impassioned remarks — and came up with an idea.
We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, more about notMYkid.
The organization was founded in 1999 by Steve and Debbie Moak, whose son — an otherwise model teenager — developed a substance addiction. As the name of their nonprofit implies, the Moaks never thought it would be their kid with a problem. Until it was.
“Our son was everything on a résumé you would want a son to be,” Debbie Moak said. “Fifth man on the basketball team, captain of the team, great grades, ran track, had a state track record — just all-around great kid. And all that time, we had no idea that addiction
Within a couple of years, the addiction had become life-threatening. Debbie said that 90 percent of addiction starts in the teen years and escalates from there.
“We’re very lucky that we still have our son,” she said. “At the time, my husband and I realized that we had no one to turn to, didn’t know how to get help, didn’t know how to get started. We saw such a lack of resources, and we found as we started to speak out, everyone sought us out.”
It’s almost like a secret club in Arizona, and in every city everywhere else. “Unless you are part of it, you really don’t know how bad it is,” Debbie said.
The Moaks decided to take action and start their own nonprofit to help families deal with teen substance abuse. Over the years, notMYkid’s programming has expanded and now includes prevention education, early intervention and counseling. Most recently, notMYkid started offering outpatient behavioral health services and an innovative peer support program that partners certified peer counselors with other young people to help them through their challenges.
It’s difficult work. It was difficult work before the opioid crisis exploded over the past decade — but then the pandemic hit.
“After this pandemic, there is a second pandemic, and it is mental health,” Moak said. “We are poised to meet the needs of thousands of thousands more kids. We became a state-licensed treatment provider. We’re doing peer support, prevention, intervention — like I said, we had no idea the problem would grow like it is today.”
With the unique challenges of the pandemic amplifying an already raging crisis, notMYkid’s leadership realized that a more holistic approach was needed to help young people protect their mental health and fight substance abuse. Which brings us back to Megan Macintosh.
Polin, the CEO, was so moved by what she heard at Chase’s memorial service that after a few weeks, she reached out to Macintosh — to see if she wanted to work at notMYkid.
“As heartbreaking as it was to watch a friend come to terms with not being able to save her own son, I knew in that moment that her message of hope and truth was going to save countless other lives from that day forward,” Polin said. “It took my breath away when she looked right into the eyes of Chase’s closest friends — many whom I know personally — and urged them to see that they are all meant for more in this life.”
Polin knew that kids are hurting and they need us to show up for them now more than ever. “I was determined to see Megan join notMYkid and do this heart work in Chase’s honor,” she said. She was grateful that the answer was yes.
Macintosh said, “To be six weeks out from my son dying and consider a total career shift was alarming, but I knew personally that my son would be like, ‘Mom, go save some kids.’”
As a yoga practitioner, Macintosh had focused heavily on meditation, mindfulness and mental health — the perfect set of skills for notMYkid’s approach to helping young people. There’s not the shame that used to be associated with drug use. Instead, there’s an understanding that treating the core problem is essential, and ensuring that young people have support is critical.
“Our biggest focus at notMYkid is to eliminate that shaming element, and do the complete opposite — to approach these kids as sensitively as we can, because we all have received a big trauma in the past two years,” she said. “It’s a whole shift in prevention because it opens the door for true long-lasting change for them, when they really feel seen, heard, supported, understood. It’s a different conversation.”
Macintosh was only with notMYkid for a few weeks when an exciting development happened. Thanks to donor generosity, the organization had the opportunity to convert a 13,000-square-foot former Discount Tire regional office in Phoenix into a center where they could help young people. Macintosh and the notMYkid team went to work converting the building into a welcoming environment for improving mental and physical health.
“It has incredible energy and a beautiful courtyard that all the suites look out to, so it’s self-contained. We came up with the idea for the name ‘The Well,’” she said. “My direct experience with what my son and three other kids needed — post-pandemic, pre-pandemic, during the pandemic — was a place to go and fill up on whatever goodness they could fill up on.”
The Well provided a chance for notMYkid to expand its programs and reach thousands more people — and help young people reconnect after the isolation of the pandemic.
“We took all these different rooms and suites on the campus and started assigning them a different identity to see what fit,” Macintosh said. “It’s evolved, but everything has its home now. And focusing on the well-being — emotional, physical, spiritual, mental well-being of our kids — is our number-one priority.”
Now, Macintosh is honoring Chase’s memory by helping ensure young people and their families don’t go through the same tragic experience they suffered. She wants to assure other parents that come in that they are doing things right, even if their child is going through a difficult time. She said that being able to talk openly with others is critical to the healing process.
“I think we all need to be very frank with ourselves and honest with each other and not be afraid to open up to people about what’s really going on,” she said. “Everyone’s struggling, and the level of support that can happen when people are transparent is huge. We don’t know how to help people unless they open up.
“That’s how we’re going to make it through — by being honest and open and transparent,” Macintosh said.
To learn more, go to notMYkid.org.