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The Opioid Response Network (ORN) Sustainability Implementation Institute: Results from the Pathways2Life and One Johns Creek Drug Free Community Coalition


Case Study Participants

The SAMHSA-funded Opioid Response Network (ORN) provides technical assistance (i.e. training and education) to states and territories, cities, organizations, health professionals and individuals, focusing on applying evidence-based practices in prevention, treatment and recovery to meet locally identified needs in addressing the opioid epidemic and stimulant use. ORN established Implementation Institutes to support requesters in learning relevant implementation science frameworks, strategies, tools and techniques to enhance their success at sustaining implementation efforts.

The project described in this case study resulted from an initiative established through the ORN Sustainability Implementation Institute (SII), directed by ORN’s Advanced Implementation Specialist, Karen Anderson Oliver, Ph.D., which supported ORN technical assistance requesters in building capacity to understand, access resources and plan for sustainability.


Pathways2Life’s (P2L) Vision is “Cultivating Meaningful Connections with Students, Parents, and Stakeholders to Build Strong Communities.” P2L’s Mission is: “To place people of understanding to deliver individual and environmental prevention strategies throughout our communities to protect teenagers as they move through the "Transition Zone" (the ages of 13-20) while unearthing their full potential.”

P2L works to provide middle school and high school students with an unmatched supportive experience by placing a “person of understanding,” (someone who has “been there, done that”) with them as they move through the dangers of “The Transition Zone” (ages of 13-20). P2L will accomplish this by further creating curriculum and delivering prevention education, crisis Intervention and support services to students, families and stakeholders in the community. The ultimate goal is to help students successfully navigate through the decisions and opportunities that come with being a student in today’s culture.

P2L also serves as fiscal agent and provides staff assistance to One Johns Creek, a community coalition working to prevent drug use and misuse among youth in One Johns Creek a local community within the P2L services area. The One Johns Creek Coalition was recently (December 2020) awarded a Drug Free Communities Grant through the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

P2L recognizes that sustainability is critical for any organization but especially for a small nonprofit. Our executive team and board participated in the SII project in order to:


P2L was one of three organizations participating in the SII project which included a combination of on-line learning sessions, coaching sessions and independent work. The project was conducted over a five-month period which included:

Session 1: Project Overview and Sustainability Principles Nov 2020
P2L Organizational Sustainability Self-Assessment & Coaching Nov 2020 – Jan 2021
Session 2: Organizational Self-Assessment Reporting and Sustainability Strategies Jan 2021
P2L Identification and prioritization of Sustainability Next Steps & Coaching Jan – Mar 2021
Session 3: Final Project Reporting Apr 2021

P2L established a SII Project Sustainability Team1 which was comprised of PSL’s Executive Team, a PSL Board member and a volunteer working on strategic planning and initiatives for the organization. The Sustainability Team facilitated the effort though ensuring the topic was addressed at appropriate P2L and Coalition Board Meetings and ensuring the project work was completed on time. Given the above schedule, the P2L effort was conducted in three main phase: Assessment, Prioritization and Planning.

Assessment. This step entailed choosing an appropriate assessment tool. After looking through various options, P2L chose the following assessment2 in which the following area are assessed:

The Survey was independently completed by the SII Sustainability Team members. The member responses were compiled and reported on a spreadsheet for further review. The spreadsheet reported the individual responses for each of the 122 items within the six categories. For each item (e.g., The roles of the Board and CEO are defined and respected) the Team response could be in one of four categories: Met, Needs Work, N/A or Don’t Know,

Prioritization. After the survey results were compiled, the Sustainability Team reviewed their combined responses to identify those items where there was consensus in the Needs Work response. In all, the Team prioritized 25 items from three categories:




Planning. The Team identified:

To facilitate further prioritization and sequencing the three columns were added to the spreadsheet:

These criteria help determine which actions should be ranked at the top as there may be items that are important but will take a long time to change and perhaps the organization needs to move forward on certain actions to gain ground with “low hanging fruit”.

As the One Johns Creek Coalition moves forward, it must also have a sustainability plan which is required by the CDC as the grant manager. This coaching process has also helped P2L look at the sustainability matrix for the coalition moving forward so that there is a process to apply to that entity as well.


A Sustainability Action Plan was created as an Excel document noted above, and infrastructure was established to implement the Plan such as a Sustainability Team, and routine team meetings.

Pathways2Life Future Plans:
P2L plans to give the Board of Directors the assessment tool to further determine areas of need to pair with findings from the team that took the survey earlier in the Institute planning work. In addition, the plan can be used as a board recruitment tool in determining those key areas where specific volunteer assistance is needed.

One Johns Creek Future Plans:
The OJC coalition will continue to develop the sustainability plan with the stakeholders in the community and determine an action plan much like P2L’s. This is a requirement for funding through the CDC so having completed the process for P2L makes the coalition plan more feasible to develop by knowing the process. The coalition is currently working on governance, definition of roles and responsibilities, recruiting action team members, and determining appropriate strategies and initiatives for the community.

Conclusions and Lessons Learned

The following conclusions and lessons learned were obtained from this initiative:

The value of a cohesive project team. P2L’s SII Project Sustainability Team entered the project with an open mind and willingness to a) accept the results of the assessment and b) act on the recommendations. Among other reasons, this is due to the leadership and direction provided by P2L CEO Ryan Stringfield. Mr. Stringfield participated in the effort on an equal basis as the other members and encouraged open and honest discussions of the issues. Additionally, Mr. Stringfield’s approach that “everything” is on the table facilitated a thorough discussion of the issues, challenges and recommendations.

The value of a well-organized project. The ORN Sustainability Institute staff along with its partners provided invaluable webinars to discuss the overarching principals and tools. Then they provided excellent coaching and one-on-one mentoring with people who had expertise in the areas in which the nonprofit and the coalition serve. This team had many characteristics of a successful implementation team: (1) positive energy; (2) leadership support; (3) champions determined to move things forward; (4) commitment; (5) transparency; and (6) willingness to learn. Our impression is that they will weave the concepts of sustainability throughout all their projects and across the organization moving forward.

Working on the business versus in the business. In nonprofit world, there is always someone to help but the entity also needs attention in order to grow and serve others. The Implementation Institute provided a definitive time and space for the P2L team to work on the structure and foundations of the business providing a huge value add. We had time, space, and guidance to methodically think through and plan for sustainability. This is high importance, but not often urgent work, so it typically gets put on the back burner. P2L is grateful for the SI and its incredible consultants who have a wealth and depth of knowledge in the industry that is unsurpassed.





1David Pritchard, Erin Eslinger, Kimberly Walsh, Ryan Stringfield
2Authenticity Conculting Nonprofit Organizational Assessment