Determined to find a way to help teens who are struggling with substance abuse, Bob Zaccheo decided adolescent boys needed something other than traditional therapy to help them navigate life. As a licensed psychotherapist, he found the key to their success was getting them outside to work with their hands while providing incentives to keep them motivated. He traded his desk for a pair of work boots, rented a nearby garage, and started working with patients doing auto repair. In 2010, he officially launched his nonprofit, Project LIFT.
More than a decade later, Project LIFT combines vocational skills training, substance abuse treatment, group and individual mental therapy, and mentoring at its headquarters in Palm City—and it recently was named “Nonprofit of the Year” by the Business Development Board of Martin County. “As a nonprofit that is looking to affect the local economy by transforming at-risk youth into a skilled workforce, it was very valuable to get this recognition from our business community,” says Zaccheo. “It is our goal to destigmatize mental health through industry, and we are grateful for a business community that embraces our program.”
The nonprofit has since expanded to offer a girl’s program featuring many of the same skill trades. “We empower them to consider careers that are considered nontraditional for women, as well as bring in mentors who work in fields of interest to the young women,” says Zaccheo. Most important, he says, is advocating for funding and policy change: “When I see one of our kids obtain employment outside of Project LIFT, that is the gold standard of success for me.” Each time a Project LIFT member gets a job, a bell is rung in the office. Says Zaccheo: “It’s been ringing a lot lately. That’s a good feeling.” projectliftmc.com