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‘Families In Action’ Celebrates 10 Years Of Drug Education On KHTS

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Action Founder/CEO Cary Quashen reflects on popular series’ first decade, anticipates second; ‘Families in Action’ now heard on radio, seen on TV, streams YouTube, the KHTS app. Show getting ready to go mobile with the Action Experience.

By Stephen K. Peeples

KHTS-AM 1220’s “Families’ in Action” program hosted by Cary Quashen, founder/CEO of the Santa Clarita-based Action Family Counseling drug and alcohol treatment and recovery centers, achieved a major milestone this week. He’s celebrating the program’s 10th year on the air Mondays at noon on the Santa Clarita Valley’s only radio station.

The program’s ongoing mission: To help educate the SCV community about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, and provide resources for people of any age who need help to get sober.

If you include various specials, that adds up to roughly 550-600 “Families in Action” broadcasts in the program’s first decade, Quashen figures. It’s the longest-running series in AM 1220’s 24-year history.

“I think back, and it’s just amazing – 10 years to do ‘Families in Action,’ or 10 years to do anything,” Quashen said. “What an opportunity this has been. And we’re still going strong. We have a very loyal listenership and viewership, the future is bright, and I’m thrilled.”

A Decade of Reaching Out

What started this week in November 2003 as a local program on a small-market AM station has become a ratings success with a reach far beyond the Santa Clarita Valley.

“If we go by our ratings, we figure at least 20 percent of the community is tuning in,” said Jeri Seratti-Goldman, KHTS co-owner.

“Teachers have changed their lunch break time so they can listen to the show,” she said. “We’ve heard from families who were listening and didn’t think they had an issue, but as it turned out, they did.Families in Action Celebrate 10 years On-Air

RELATED: Hear the ‘Families in Action 10th Anniversary Podcast

“Cary has a saying – ‘If you think it is, it is.’ There have been hundreds of people over the last 10 years that have come to us, and that one phrase has really resonated in them,” Seratti-Goldman said. “So parents have further investigated what’s going on in their families. Cary’s given them that ‘oomph,’ that encouragement to act instead of just sitting back and ignoring it.

Jeri Seratti-Goldman, Cary Quashen and Bob Sharits celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Families in Action" on AM 1220 KHTS.

“I’ve been in (the radio) business for 34 years and rarely does a show last this long, but ‘Families in Action’ keeps doing something that’s so needed -- it’s educating the community,” she said.

Using Technology to Expand the Outreach

During “Families in Action’s” first decade, Quashen and KHTS have expanded the series’ audience as technology made it possible. KHTS now archives each week’s show as a podcast posted on the station’s website and videos archived on the KHTS YouTube channel.

RELATED: Watch the ‘Families in Action 10th Anniversary Video


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Smartphone users can listen to the show live, now, too.

“Download the KHTS app, and you can listen to us on your phone from anywhere,” Quashen said. “It’s amazing what we have available now to reach people.”

Through KHTS’s news-sharing alliance with SCVTV, community television for the Santa Clarita Valley, the “Families in Action” video also airs every Monday at 4 p.m. throughout the SCV and the rest of Los Angeles County, as well as Orange County. 

The Stats: ‘Families in Action’ Has Played a Part in Reducing SCV OD Deaths

Beyond ratings, “Families in Action’s” impact in its first decade may be best measured by how effective the series has been in getting the message across about preventing or treating drug and alcohol abuse in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

By all accounts, “Families in Action” has played an important role in helping to mobilize and promote the community’s successful effort to reverse the spike in drug overdose deaths in the last couple of years. 

In 2011, five Santa Clarita Valley residents died of drug overdoses. That jumped to 14 mostly young people by the end of 2012. 

At that point, the heroin and especially the opiated prescription drug problems were still out of control in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

A three-pronged anti-heroin campaign – education, prevention and intervention, adopted and coordinated in late 2011 by the J-Team (aka the Juvenile Narcotics Team), the local county courts, the city of Santa Clarita, the Hart school district, and Action – was just gaining traction by late 2012. 

RELATED: Read all the KHTS ‘It Takes a Village’ Features about Drugs in the SCV 

Now, a year later, only four people have died of opiate-related overdoses so far in 2013, with a bit more than a month until New Year’s Eve. 

That’s a roughly 75 percent reduction, according to Bob Wachsmuth, the SCV Sheriff’s Station detective and J-Team leader whose duties include keeping track of these tragic and avoidable deaths. 

Wachsmuth credits the dramatic drop to the three-pronged attack finally digging in. He said all the efforts are now having a cumulative positive effect. 

He also said Action and “Families in Action” have played major roles in the prevention, education and intervention effort. 

“By providing its rehabilitation and education programs free to Santa Clarita Valley residents, and getting the word out on the radio, Action has played an absolutely major role in causing the turnaround of our stats,” Wachsmuth said. “No doubt about it. It’s no coincidence.” 

The Word on the Street: ‘Families in Action’

As Seratti-Goldman noted, she hears positive feedback about “Families in Action” in particular just about everywhere she goes. She and her husband, both active in the Santa Clarita Valley community, especially supporting pro-veteran and anti-drug efforts, have encountered people from all walks of life, and developed strong relationships with them. 

Cary Quashen cares about the Santa Clarita Community“It’s definitely had an impact,” Carl Goldman said. “I’ve bumped into people at stores, at events, who’ve heard the show and come up to me and said, ‘Boy, it really caused a shift in the way we looked at our kids.’ 

“I’ve had kids themselves say they’ve called Action and walked in (to get help) after hearing the show,” he said. “I’ve seen the kids who have come into the (KHTS) studio week after week as guests on ‘Families in Action’ over those 10 years who are now really celebrating sobriety. They constantly say how Action saves lives. It is a mantra I’ve heard over and over the past 10 years: ‘Action has saved my life,’ or ‘Action saved my daughter’s life or my son’s life.’ 

There’s no price or value anyone can put on that, other than priceless. 

“Not a month goes by where at least one ‘Families in Action’ show is a gem,” Goldman said. “Cary and his co-hosts, often Bob Sharits, Action’s program director (and himself a recovering addict with more than eight years’ sobriety) have guests on the show who are directly affected by drugs and alcohol, whether it’s a loved one they lost or the individuals themselves.” 

Krissy McAfee, a local mom who lost her son to a heroin overdose in spring 2011 and made it her mission to motivate the community to act, has been a frequent “Families in Action” guest and co-host with Quashen and/or Sharits. 

“I can’t count the number of times people have broken down on the air and poured their hearts out in sharing their story,” Goldman said. “That’s what makes ‘Families in Action’ so powerful – it’s the sharing of the stories and all of us realizing that these are our kids here in the valley. They’ve grown up in a middle-class community, an affluent community. You realize drug and alcohol abuse impacts everybody.” 

Quashen laughed when asked about “Families in Action” highlights he remembers most. 

“After 500-plus shows, they all kind of run together,” he said, adding the best moments have been when “people called up or emailed that they heard the show and have gone into treatment and are getting help. We’ve had people call us from the street after listening to the show that we picked up and got right into treatment centers.” 

How Quashen Got Sober, Founded Action and ‘Families in Action’

Of course, no success happens overnight. There’s almost always a fascinating backstory, and that’s true with “Families in Action.” 

It goes back more than three decades, when Quashen himself was dancing with death, as most alcohol and/or drug addicts eventually do (reference “Dancing with Mr. D” from The Rolling Stones’ 1973 album “Goats Head Soup”). 

Unlike all addicts, though, Quashen finally bottomed out, looked Mr. D in the eye, and told him to buzz off. Or somewhat more profane words to that effect. 

“I got clean and sober 34 years ago this Christmas Eve,” he said. He was 25 at the time. 

“After I had about a year clean and sober, I made it my mission to reach out to the community that is suffering from addictions and other mental illness issues so they didn’t have to suffer as much,” he said. “It’s not just a mission, but it’s also been a passion for me.” 

Quashen founded Action Family Counseling Inc. in May 1997 as the passion-fueled engine to drive that mission in the Santa Clarita Valley. Over the years, the center’s operations have expanded to meet demand in Ventura and Kern counties as well, and treated thousands of patients. 

Meanwhile, Quashen and his wife Kirsten were like many other Santa Clarita residents, raising three now-grown children. 

‘Families in Action’ Born

By 2003, just before “Families in Action” premiered on KHTS, Quashen had developed a national media reputation as the go-to expert on trends in alcohol and drug abuse among teens and young adults. 

“We had recovery and treatment centers open and running, and I was also doing a lot of talk shows,” he said. “It was the era of Ricki Lake and Leeza Gibbons and Montel Williams.” 

Quashen paid attention, watched how media worked, thought about how to use it to further his mission. 

“When you get involved and do your own thing, you can help so many people,” he said.” But when you grab the media’s attention and do it correctly, you can help hundreds of more people. So, it was a natural move right into KHTS.” 

Stephanie Weiss, then a well-established SCV-based public relations person specializing in non-profit organizations and events, and now based in Texas, was the catalyst who connected the “Families in Action” players a decade ago. She remains a key figure in the show behind the scenes. 

“We had met Cary earlier – he had helped us with some family members that were struggling,” Seratti-Goldman said. “And we fell in love with him.” 

“When we were bringing the radio station back as KHTS (the Goldmans had previously owned local station KBET on the same frequency), Stephanie, a friend who had worked with Cary, said she thought this kind of show would be something the community would really benefit from,” she said.

“It was a no-brainer. We took ‘Families in Action’ and it’s been 10 years,” Seratti-Goldman said. “What a blessing Cary and Action have been and continue to be to this community, in so many ways.” Cary Quashen

“It was actually Stephanie and Carl and Jeri’s idea to do a show that would educate the community on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, and what’s going on here in Santa Clarita,” Quashen said. “It was just one of those things where the planets aligned well and I was in the right place at the right time, and it just worked out great. 

“Stephanie helped open a lot of doors here back then for people to be able to talk about what was going on,” he said. “People having problems with substance abuse, mental health and all those once-taboo issues just didn’t talk about. She was very involved in getting the word out then, and still is.” 

The Challenge of Drug Education

From the outset, Quashen, Weiss, the Goldmans and the “Families in Action” team knew what they were up against in trying to get that message out to teens before the kids started making less than swift decisions about alcohol and drugs. 

“You watch television today, go to a movie, whatever you put on [and do] – they glorify drinking and alcohol and drugs and all that kind of stuff,” Quashen said. “We wanted to do a show that really told the truth about what’s going on and the dangers. 

“And it’s not just about drugs and alcohol, and not just Santa Clarita, but also mental health and substance abuse everywhere,” he said. “I think it’s important – knowledge is power. In our show, we want to make sure the people listening get that knowledge, so they have the power to know and make smart decisions.” 

Quashen Reflects on Three Decades of Trends in Drug Abuse

Quashen reflected on how the local drug and alcohol scene has changed over the decades he’s headed Action.

“It always changes,” he said. “We have what you call ‘phases.’ Like in the ’70s, you had the heroin, and then it went away. Then it was the cocaine, LSD, the Quaaludes, and the crystal methamphetamine.”

In Santa Clarita in the 10 years “Families in Action” has been on the air, Quashen has seen “lots of marijuana and alcohol. Meth was very big up to about two or three years ago. Not that it went away, it’s still here.

Then, just a few years ago, “Heroin made a smashing comeback,” he said. “The most frightening thing about that is, in the ‘70s, you looked at a heroin addict and you said, ‘They’re junkies, they shoot dope in the bathroom and in the corners.’ It’s changed now. Heroin’s more of a designer drug because people start by smoking it. So they’re starting younger and younger, because it’s not one of those taboo things where they’re sitting in a corner or hiding using a needle. They’re smoking it at parties and clubs and doing it together.” 

Now, Quashen observes, “We have more of an explosion in the use of opiates -- pain medications, Vicodin, Oxycontin and the Roxies and all those wonderful ugly drugs.”

As does his community partner against crime Bob Wachsmuth, Quashen also keeps track of overdose deaths in the SCV. After the 14 OD’s in 2012, he’s elated about this year’s decrease, but adds that even one is too many. 

And as does Wachsmuth, Quashen sees this precipitous drop resulting from that three-pronged, community-wide attack. 

“The things the city, the Sheriff’s Department, the schools, Action Family Counseling, KHTS and ‘Families in Action’ are doing – everybody all together – we’re making a big difference out there,” Quashen said. 

“There’s never going to be one thing that fixes all, but [with] a combination of everything, we could sure make a huge dent in what’s going on,” he said. “I always say I’ve been doing this to put myself out of business. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. But the more we do, the more people we reach, the more of a dent we can put in. 

“We’re never going to get rid of drugs – it’s never going to happen,” he said. “But we could sure lessen the need for them.” 

Big Plans for 2014: Sober School, ‘Families in Action’ Roadshow

Toward that end, Action and “Families in Action” have big plans for 2014.

A couple of years ago, Action reactivated the non-profit Action Family Foundation (founded in 1993 as Action A Parent & Teen Support program DBA Action Family Foundation) as a way to provide free counseling, rehab and recovery services to those who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

In mid-2012, the Foundation opened the Action Family Zone in Canyon Country, teaming with life leadership coach (and fellow KHTS program host) Alex Urbina. The Zone provides a drug-free environment for counseling and rehab support, free self-improvement and workshops, homework help, and more programs and activities geared to assisting young people get and stay sober.

In 2014, “We’re starting to grow the Action Family Foundation,” Quashen said. “We have The Zone, we’re in more schools, and we’re in the process of opening a sober school at The Zone along with the Hart district.

“There are other sober schools, but I believe this is the first time a school district and a drug treatment program are partnering together and opening a school to help people be in a nice, safe environment,” he said.

“It’s going to be middle school to high school, four days a week, as of right now Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.," Quashen said. “The Hart district will do the curriculum and teaching, and Action will do the counseling and all the therapeutic stuff. So, it’s very exciting.”

More details on the sober school to come soon, he said.


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Are You Experienced? ‘Families in Action’ Takes ‘The Experience’ Mobile

In 2014, rolling into its second decade on the air, Quashen and KHTS will take the “Families in Action” show on the road -- literally.

A mobile version will roll out Action’s drug awareness education to public and nonprofit events and school assemblies in the valley, with occasional live remotes on the station, Goldman said.

“We’ve taken the vision of the show and we’re creating ‘The Experience,’ a traveling multimedia memorial to those who’ve died of drug overdoses,” he said. “It’s a chance for people to hear the Action anti-drug message out within the community.

“It’s going to be a traveling RV with multimedia screens that will go out to events,” he said. “It could be sitting there at a local football game, going into the schools, parked at a street fair, Concerts in the Park, the SENSES block parties in Newhall, cancer walks or other major events. It’s digital and we can constantly change it for different settings.”

Assemblies at middle schools and high schools would be examples of ‘The Experience’ experience, Goldman said. “As we envision it, if it’s an assembly with panelists, we’ll have a shorter promo video playing on the RV as the kids are walking into Valencia High School, for instance. Then when they go into the assembly, the normal lengthier show that’s out there on the RV will actually be shown on the screen in the assembly. It’s going to be very versatile.”

Goldman said Action is the foundation for the “Families in Action” roadshow, but other stakeholders are helping make the vision a reality. They include the city’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, the SCV Sheriff’s Station, the Hart district, the Child & Family Center, and the SCV Youth Project.

“It also includes a coalition of families who have actually lost a loved one,” Goldman said.

“We think we can convert a lot of the strength of ‘Families in Action’ into an entirely different, live and interactive medium,” he said. “Our plan is to literally roll out ‘The Experience’ in 2014.”

When asked about syndication or satellite and Internet radio, Quashen said, “I would love to see this show get syndicated, so yes, we’re actually looking into those opportunities now, too.”

What Keeps Fueling Quashen’s Passion?

What continues to fuel Cary Quashen’s passion after so many years orbiting in the rehab universe is the constant feedback he gets about “Families in Action” from recovering addicts, their families, and other appreciative members of the community.

Quashen recalled a recent event at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, where he also serves as executive director of the Behavioral Health Unit.

“It was a banquet honoring the hospital’s longest-employed staff members, and more than 400 people were there,” he said. “And the number of people who walked up to me was amazing. They said, ‘Wow, we listen to your show!’ or ‘We watch you on Time-Warner (Channel 20) every Monday!’ 

“I was blown away. It really feels good to know people really want to hear this stuff, to know what’s going on, to get involved in their community. It rejuvenates me, makes me want to keep on hosting ‘Families in Action’ for another 10 years.”


‘Families In Action’ Celebrates 10 Years Of Drug Education On KHTS


Article: ‘Families In Action’ Celebrates 10 Years Of Drug Education On KHTS
Source: Santa Clarita News
Author: Stephen Peeples