Doctoral Student Opens Recovery Center in Harlem

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For several years Felecia Pullen was pulling in a six-figure salary selling advertising space for several well-known magazines. She called it a “somewhat glamorous” life.“We had endless expense accounts and wine at lunch—unfortunately wine at lunch became unmanageable,” she said. “I was highly functioning, but didn’t understand that even though I thought I was thriving I was actually dying.”

“I knew I had to make changes in my life. It took me 30 years to make those changes.”

Today, Pullen is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Social Service researching how addiction affects her Harlem neighborhood. She is the president of Let’s Talk SAFETY, Inc., a not-for-profit dedicated to substance abuse prevention for teens and youth. And she is the chief operating officer of The PILLARS, a recovery center in the heart of Harlem.

“I cut my teeth in Fordham’s Office of Student Life on the Rose Hill campus,” she said. “I began to develop the model for SAFE in Harlem as an intern there.”

She said that, odd as it may seem, her personal journey from addiction to recovery has helped her to realize her calling—and for that she is thankful.

“In recovery, I found that my purpose was to come back to the community where I was born and raised. I want the youth to see me as an example of what is possible in the community,” she said.

PILLARS promotes holistic approaches to recovery, she said. The program offers “one stop shopping” with 12-step programs, individual recovery planners, peer recovery coach training, workforce development, domestic violence prevention, parenting skills, yoga, reiki, and even acupuncture.

Those coming into PILLARS for services can be assured of their anonymity; but Pullen doesn’t plan to hide her past.

“I stand as an example. That’s why I live my addiction and recovery out loud,” she said.

Pullen will be part of a film screening of “Reversing the Stigma” and a panel discussion on recovery on Monday, Sept. 25 at 5 p.m. at the New York Institute of Technology Auditorium, one block from Fordham Lincoln Center. The event is free and open to the public. Two continuing education hours are available for licensed social workers through GSS. 

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