Michael DeLeon is a champion advocate for change in the middle of our nation’s addiction epidemic. Michael, a successful acclimated ex-offender, is now an acclaimed documentary film maker, writer, scholar and public speaker. He uses his unique perspective and one of a kind platform to enlighten others, create awareness and challenge change.
A graduate of William Paterson University with a BA in English Literature, John grew up in Bridgeton in a single parent home with a mother that struggled with a serious drug problem. He is motivated by the failures of numerous family members and friends that lost their lives because of bad choices. He has been a speaker with Steered Straight since 2008. John is a father, husband and community leader that works hard to improve the lives of others.
Darla presents the Family perspective – a wife that not only had to deal with her husband’s addiction, raise two children by herself in the absence of that husband for 12 years while he was away in prison, but had to deal with the long-term effects on the family. She shares her personal story as a child of an alcoholic Father and the compelling story of the wife of Steered Straight’s founder, Michael Deleon. A woman held at gunpoint, not once but twice, and the Mother of their two children, Darla impacts students about how their choices and decisions affect those that they love.
Desiree Coombs is a graduate of Essex County College with her Associates degree in Human and Social Serviced. She is now a full-time student at Rutgers University studying for her Bachelor’s degree (B.S.W) in Social Work. Desiree is experienced in speaking with the Lifers group and Project PRIDE for the Department of Corrections.
Desiree is committed to making a difference in the lives of those she talks to through her own life experiences, and her passion is to empower and encourage others to prevent the path of drug use or incarceration.
After eight years of battling the disease of addiction face-to-face, Nicky has devoted his life to sharing his story and how he got to that point. Losing his father at age 11 to the disease, as well as friends along the way, he promised to do everything in his will to make a change in the world.
Nicky shows how by applying positive principles in his life he can be the son, brother, uncle, and a part of society that he never imagined he could be. Being so young and conquering his demons he is a Beacon of Hope in today’s world.
Nafeesah A. Goldsmith
Nafeesah is a graduate student at Monmouth University pursuing a Masters in Criminal Justice. She holds a BA in Sociology and is an alumna of Passaic County Community College, Rutgers (New Brunswick) & Douglas Residential College. She began her college career while serving a 15yr prison sentence at EMCFW (Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women).
It was via Clinton College Bound/ NJ-STEP that Nafeesah began to change her life. She soon became a proud member of MVC (Mountainview Community) where she was afforded the opportunity to attend Rutgers. Nafeesah spends her free time traveling to speak on topics such as; Incarceration, Re-entry, the School to Prison Pipeline, and the effects of incarceration on families and communities. Her goal is to reach out to the youth and global community by educating them about the social structures that are in place that lead to social deviance.
The 30-year owner of a construction company, Mike Palombi has been building foundations—both for houses and for young lives. In 2008, Mike was able to accomplish what even the law said he’d never be able to accomplish; he received a Standard Certification for Teacher of Carpentry allowing him to teach in any school in the State of New Jersey. Since his release from prison, Mike has used his trade skills and experience of overcoming the entanglements of addiction and incarceration to teach at-risk youth the importance of building foundations for life.
In January 2014 Mike released his award-winning memoir, How’s It Feel, Tough Guy? From Prisoner of Pride to Prisoner of Hope. His memoir, received 1st Place recognition in The Christian Writers Awards, in the category of Counseling/Recovery and is currently in hundreds of prisons and county jails nationwide. Together with his wife Heidi, they use the book as a vehicle to bring a message of hope to those most others deem to be hopeless.
In September of 2014, under the supervision of Pastor Ray Tate, Lead Pastor of Life Chapel, Point Pleasant, N.J., Mike and Heidi began leading a Christ-centered 12 Step Recovery Ministry internationally known as Celebrate Recovery. In May of 2016, Celebrate Recovery Life Chapel officially opened its doors to members of the surrounding communities and is now able to help provide support for those in their area struggling with Hurts, Habits, and Hang–ups.
Most recently, Mike became enrolled in the Brooklyn Teen Challenge School of Ministry and is pursuing his ministerial credential to help position himself to have access to the prison populations he desires most to minister to. Mike regularly speaks at men’s groups, churches, recovery events, drug treatment facilities and jails. He and Heidi are active members of Life Chapel and reside at the Jersey Shore.
For Cindy Keefe, the personal desperation and pain of addiction has transformed into a burning passion; a passion to help others that are struggling with addiction and to support those who have found a journey of recovery stay the course and continue to transform their lives. Now in her second decade of recovery, her passion has grown into a new mission: to bring more awareness, education and prevention to our youth, our communities and our faith based organizations.
Cindy was born in Beverly, MA to “normal” parents. Mom was teacher and Dad an engineer. Life changed drastically for her, when at the age of 7, her father passed away after a 4 year battle with MS. Cindy’s mom never remarried, and as an only child, Cindy often felt alone, different and struggled to find her “place” or to find self acceptance. Always a good student, active in school activities, Young Life and her church, Cindy went on to college with the goals of completing a pre med program, continuing to medical school and working in the field of pathology, hoping to aid in a cure for MS.
Once away at college, all of the temptations and ‘solutions’ that Cindy had been kept away from in high school were readily available. Like most kids/young adults, she began with experimentation, which led to regularly drinking, using drugs and trying more risky behaviors and lifestyles. In those vices, she thought she had found the answer to her dis-ease of feeling lost, not fitting in and needing validation. What she had really opened the door to was the disease of addiction which slowly and cunningly took over her life.
In 1998, now living in Ocean City, MD, and after 15 years of living a disposable lifestyle, running from herself, pushing away family and friends, getting 3 DWIs, losing jobs, failed attempts at returning to school, feeling suicidal, living homeless and having a miscarriage—Cindy finally hit a spiritual, emotional, physical and mental bottom. She returned home to Rochester, NY, starting an outpatient rehabilitation program, getting involved in 12 Step Programs and finding her way back to her faith and a relationship with God. In 2001, Cindy returned to Maryland for a new career and fresh start. In 2003, Cindy experienced the sudden life changing event of her mothers’ death– but did not allow that to ‘take her back out’ or as an excuse for relapse. If anything, that difficult experience and season helped solidify Cindy’s faith, commitment to recovery and service to others.
Now in her 20th year of long term recovery, Cindy has spent the last 10 years actively serving both secular 12 Step fellowships and faith based recovery programs. She mentors women, providing guidance and support in recovery and life skills and challenges. She has shared her story freely and transparently to both those in recovery and to faith based audiences not in recovery—the families and the communities that are all affected by this epidemic of addiction. In sharing the real experiences from the heart, Cindy’s story shows the hope for the hopeless, that recovery is indeed possible, and that God offers indescribable and immeasurable grace and mercy to anyone who needs it and seeks it.
For the last 10 years, Cindy has had a successful career in distribution sales. In 2015, Cindy attended the Fed Up with Addiction Rally in Washington, DC, and felt a weight placed on her heart to do more, get more involved beyond the 12 Step groups and home church recovery groups. More and more signs began to show themselves in her life as the Holy Spirit began to move. Cindy was often asked when she was going to answer the ‘call’ that many have sensed she had been given. And the answer was always, “As soon as I…..” Yet, when God moves, He moves; when He wants us to answer the phone, He lets it keep ringing until we pick it up.
Cindy finally decided to answer that “phone” while driving across the Bay Bridge one sunny, early fall day in September 2017, deciding to leave a secure career and joining both Steered Straight as Outreach Coordinator for MD/DE and the Recovery Army as Director of Faith Based Programs. What comes next for Cindy and Recovery Army, is up to God and how our faith based communities support and help us grow and share our much needed new mission, ministries and spirit led projects, such as CURE: Christians Uplifting Recovery Everywhere
Joseph ‘Joey’ Sarno was born and raised in central New Jersey. He is a product of a family that struggled with substance abuse. Joey turned to the streets and began living a life of crime and drug addiction. After hitting bottom after bottom, he decided he could no longer live this way and sought help through a 12 step program. He has devoted his life to faith and recovery. He is a huge advocate for helping people and finding new ways to live improved lifestyles.
Philip O’Hara is a former student athlete who had a promising future ahead of him. A simple trip to the dentist sent his life into a direction no one had suspected. A college wrestling career took a backseat to his opiate addiction. Doing whatever he needed to feed his addiction, Philip completly abanded his moral compass. Doing whatever he needed to do to find the next one. After a 7 year battle with opiates finding himself completly broken and alone, he finally made the call for help and hasn’t looked back. Since finding recovery Philip has been certified as a recovery coach, certified peer recovery specialist, and Has trained with world renowned Motivational speaker Les Brown. Earning his certificate as a certified motivational speaker and coach through the Les Brown institute. It’s been Phil’s mission to share his story with young people and attempt to educate them on the dangers of drug abuse.
Our Elementary Team
From left to right: Steve as “Super Safety Steve”, Monica as “The Bully”, Darla as “Suzy”