This May marks the 10-year anniversary of the local nonprofit Winning the Fight (WTF).
In some ways it’s a celebration of the number of families it has helped over the years.
In other ways it’s a sad reminder of the number of families who need that help.
WTF was created by Flower Mound resident Kathy O’Keefe and her husband Ben after their son Brett died of an accidental drug overdose on March 20, 2010.
The couple decided to create an organization to provide support, resources and education to families in North Texas who are dealing with substance abuse.
WTF started as a counseling session but has turned into so much more … even though at the time Kathy O’Keefe didn’t know what to expect.
“I never thought about it,” O’Keefe said. “I just knew we had to get it going. We had work to do, and I knew what we had to do.”
The answer was to provide people with what they didn’t have during Brett’s struggles.
“When Ben and I started this the question was “what do we need?” O’Keefe said. “We needed education, support and resources.”
WTF has provided that and has expanded its team in the process. Many of its board members, including Kathy Duke, have experienced the same challenges and now work with O’Keefe to help other families.
“That’s what she did for me,” said Duke, board president. “When I was putting my daughter in rehab, Kathy walked me through it. You can’t find that by looking on the internet because you’re at a loss. It takes the wind out of your sails.”
Duke’s daughter, Jessica Duke, died on Jan. 29 at the age of 25. Duke now works with other families to guide them through the difficult times.
“I want to help that kid or that family who thinks that nobody is like them,” Duke said. “When you admit what you’re going through you see that so many others are going through it, too.”
The education piece of WTF has evolved significantly over the years, and it hit a high point on Aug. 31, 2014 when WTF released the film “Not Me,” a documentary that tells the story of addiction as experienced by eight local families, including O’Keefe.
Today “Not Me” is now shown in schools and churches. The Flower Mound Municipal Court has even used shown the film to people when they are arrested for drug charges.
But the film was just the beginning.
In September of 2019 WTF hosted an anxiety workshop called Just Breathe that provided methods, alternative treatments and hands-on instructions to help overcome anxiety. The documentary, “Angst,” starring gold medalist Michael Phelps was shown prior to the workshop.
“You can’t address drugs without addressing mental health,” O’Keefe said. “The two go hand in hand.”
WTF has hosted revitalization retreats that touch on topics such as anxiety, fear and post traumatic stress disorder for those who are using drugs or have lost someone to substance abuse.
WTF has also expanded its support system from teens dealing with substance abuse to parents who are facing that battle with them.
Grief groups have also become a part of WTF’s offerings.
“So many people lose someone, but when they go to grief counseling they often feel stigmatized,” O’Keefe said.
One of WTF’s goals is to remove the stigma of addiction.
O’Keefe has also taken her platform to Washington D.C. twice.
She said her first trip was to observe how the different departments are making efforts to address the opioid problem in the country.
“People think the government isn’t doing anything,” O’Keefe said. “But every department talked about what they’re doing to address this problem. It was nice to come back and say the government is paying attention to this.”
When O’Keefe went to Washington D.C. the second time she was part of a group of people to share their story on how substance abuse affected their family.
“All of us had different backgrounds and different problems,” O’Keefe said. “If we didn’t tell the committee about our struggles they would have no idea. They would look at it as statistics, so this brought humanity to it.”
O’Keefe estimates WTF has helped approximately 60,000 people in 10 years with 2,100 resources provided and 2,350 families counseled and 300 educational programs. She said most of those lead to referrals to a variety of professionals – substance abuse or mental health therapists, intervention outpatient therapy, treatment centers, detox, sober living and recovery coaches.
“Referrals are huge,” O’Keefe said. “We never had that. We had no idea where to go.”
O’Keefe said through various in-person programs WTF gets in front of 8,000 to 10,000 people a year. That includes visits to middle schools and high schools at various school districts across North Texas.
She often brings with her a memorial board that shows pictures of those locally who have lost their lives to substance abuse.
“It’s reality,” O’Keefe said. “More family pictures, it makes a difference.”
She said in addition to the in-person visits WTF has also helped North Texas and beyond with its website and social media pages.
While WTF serves mostly Denton, Collin, Dallas and Tarrant counties, O’Keefe said people from across the country check out WTF online for a variety of resources, such as a parent tool kit to teach them what to watch for if they suspect their child is using drugs.
The website also includes a checklist of what questions to ask at a treatment center.
After 10 years, WTF has no signs of slowing down. O’Keefe said the organization has several new initiatives on the horizon, including expanding its municipal courts program so that courts across the country show “Not Me” to those arrested on drug charges.
O’Keefe said she also wants to do more to help young people battling drug addiction, such as raising money to provide scholarships to a trade school.
“So many people have felonies, so they can’t get jobs,” O’Keefe said.
But in the immediate future there will be a celebration breakfast May 6 at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center in Lewisville to recognize WTF’s work. O’Keefe will share with others what her nonprofit has accomplished, and it will allow her to reflect back on its mission as well.
“I’m most proud about the amount of people we are reaching,” O’Keefe said. “People say I have no idea how many people we’ve helped, and the truth is I don’t.”