Tragedies and Triumphs Inspire Service and Better Choices

by Guy Blanchette
President and CEO, Drug Free Collier


One of the things that has been reinforced for me in the short time I have been serving at Drug Free Collier is the power sharing our life experiences can have in helping others.

When individuals are willing to share not only their time and talent, but also go to that more vulnerable place of sharing their tragedies and triumphs, we are moved.

Sometimes we are moved to tears. Sometimes we are moved to laughter and joy. But, the real gift is when we or others are moved to change.

During our 9th Annual Community Awareness Luncheon –and on other occasions – we have heard from one inspiring and  courageous individual who has personally been touched by the devastating effects of substance abuse – Scott Salley, who lost his son, Deke, to a drug overdose 15 years ago.

Chief Salley was our guest of honor at this year’s event. As the retired Chief of Corrections for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, he was recognized for his 30-year career reducing substance abuse and making a difference in the lives of Collier County youth.

As a parent, it’s unbearable to imagine the pain Chief Salley, his wife, Lynn, and their family have experienced. Yet, over the years, he has bravely shared the story of the loss of his son with parents and young people alike with the hope it could save other families from tragedy.


Presenting the award was a young man who, by interesting circumstances, entered into Chief Salley’s circle of influence. Nick Mullins is a 17-year-old student at Beacon High School, who fell behind in 9th grade after having two serious surgeries. Nick is someone who might have been considered “at-risk” because of health challenges and also because he did not grow up with a father in the home. Nick’s grandmother and mother worked for the Sheriff’s Office and Nick would frequently come by the office from a very young age. He and the Chief spent many hours together talking about all kinds of things, and I am sure Chief Salley did not miss the opportunity to share the realities of drug use with Nick.

This is part of what Nick shared at our event:

“Scott has been one of the most important people in my life. He was and is the man I call Dad. The important lessons he taught me was how to be a son, a man, future husband and future father. But most important is what he taught me about drug use. He taught me how it can rip a family apart and how that one hit of anything could be the end of your life.

Whenever the question gets asked: ‘Oh Nick, go to this party’ or ‘Come try this’, my answer is No.”

Nick began volunteering at St. Matthew’s House at an early age and now works there. Growing up around Chief Salley and the Justin’s Place Recovery Program has clearly had a positive influence on Nick’s life.

One could argue there is nothing more inspiring than a person who has turned a difficult or unthinkable tragedy into a triumph.

Our ultimate goal is that these stories, along with the collaborative education and support efforts of our Coalition, can help prevent substance abuse and its devastating effects altogether.

As our luncheon keynote speaker, youth empowerment expert Josh Shipp, communicated so powerfully – every kid is just one caring adult away from being a success story.

We want to extend Josh’s call to-action to every adult in our community to be a caring, supportive presence in the lives of at least one young person. Ask Nick and Chief Salley. It works.

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