Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
March 31, 2022
Stephen Deason | The OPA RASA Group
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Stephen Deason and I am the founder and CEO of the OPARASA Group. We are a holding company that operates businesses that help people build worth as they’re going through recovery. We help people recovering from things like drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, or sex figure out what they want to do in life while building good business skills.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I was born in Texas and grew up in Alabama in the lower Appalachian region in an area that’s not especially economically profitable. I was very fortunate to get an education and trained to be a business school professor. I’m personally in long-term recovery and started hiring young people who were early in the recovery process. I just think that business is a wonderful way for people to create and build wealth and economic opportunities for themselves. All those I hired seemed to do really, really well in their recovery and in business. My partner, co-founder Lisa Wilson, and I sat down to determine if we could do this at scale to help people see how helpful it is for them to align themselves in their opportunities in the world. So far we’ve been correct.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
To be completely transparent, I was tired of burying young people. I spend a lot of volunteer time working with young people impacted by the heroin and opioid epidemic. There was a series of about 12 or 13 weeks when we had a funeral each week. Somebody had to figure out something to make this stop. At the same time, I was the Chief Financial Officer for a company and had been hiring young people. It clicked. God put it on my heart and said, “Are you looking at what’s happening with these people?” I started talking to them, and every one of them who had previously been an addict had started to identify their success in recovery along with their success in being able to show up and do a job. It didn’t seem that others were working in this field. I think when we offer people a pathway, when we shine a light, they have a tendency to do a lot better in terms of recovery. Losing young people to an overdose when they have such incredible opportunity in the world is tremendously and horribly impactful to everyone around them. I just felt it incumbent on me and on the people I was working with to find a way to help.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
We offer a long-term inside internship program designed to be three years long. The program teaches people all of the things they need to learn to be able to operate in the corporate world. They learn everything from accounts payable to outside sales and contract writing inside a relatively contained environment. We also work to place people in facilities in the communities of Georgia and South Carolina where we work. We issued more than 650 W-2 statements last year and helped 11 people through our internship program. Some of them are still with us and are having a really positive experience. We measure by the number of lives impacted. Over the last 18 months or so, we’ve impacted almost 1,000 people and helped 11 or 12 young people achieve the next step along their journey.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I initially reached out to Greg Block, founder of a company called First Step Staffing because he seemed to be doing something that was really powerful. First Step Staffing was designed to help the homeless population become gainfully employed. They’ve had a tremendous impact in Atlanta and in five other major cities. Greg spent 18 months trying to convince me to go into staffing, and I kept saying I wanted to do something in high tech or software. But Greg was very persistent, and it’s turned out to be exactly the right thing. In some sense, Greg really inspired this. I just consider myself following in someone else’s footsteps. Sadly, Greg passed away from cancer the year before last.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I grew up in the bottom part of the Appalachian chain. Our vision is to take what we’re doing now and run right up the Appalachian chain through the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development partnership agency. It starts in Mississippi then runs through North Alabama, North Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Philadelphia. Our goal is to move up that chain in the various geographies further north as we are successful.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The biggest challenge is finding the right people. I think that’s always the biggest challenge, finding people who are interested in business, good at business, and also very civic and social-minded. I think that combination is just universally challenging.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Roughly 32 million Americans are in some type of active recovery and 80 million need to be. That means almost one out of every two or three people is in some way suffering or working on their suffering. If you think about that level of penetration into the population, this is something we as a society need to work together to address.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I don’t remember who said it, but you become who you surround yourself with. So if you make the people around you successful, you are by definition successful.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We need to reduce the stigma around people being willing to ask for help. We need people to be able to raise their hand and say, “I’m not doing so well.” Being able to ask for assistance is one of the most powerful and brave things that can be done. When people do it, we need to reach out a hand and say, “Okay, let’s help you.” You can visit our website to learn more.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give do-good organizations the resources and support they need to increase awareness and grow their audience so they can maximize their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.