Cathey Brown sits in her high-rise office perched in a swivel chair, the Dallas skyline behind her. Scores of degrees and certificates line the walls. She speaks gently but assertively, making eye contact as she talks. A few minutes into the conversation, it’s evident she is a confident, successful woman.
“I’ve worked hard to get where I am today, and there were a lot of personal battles along the way – there’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but no regrets,” she says.
Brown has spent the past 25 years pouring her heart and soul into Rainbow Days, a neighborhood youth anti-drug program she founded while working as a schoolteacher and counselor.
“I realized that there were tons of recovery programs for adult alcoholics out there, but there really wasn’t any counseling for the kids who were affected by alcoholism. I wanted to do something to change that because it’s not just the parents who are impacted by alcoholism, the whole family suffers.”
And Brown is speaking from firsthand experience.
“Both my parents struggled with alcoholism, and so did I,” she says. “It seemed to have gone on in the family for generations, but it was never discussed. I’m sure it was partly genetic and partly learned, but my parents and I never talked about our alcoholism.”
Her family was forced to face it, however, when her mother fell seriously ill from years of drinking.
“At this point, I looked at my own life, and I saw I was continuing that pattern,” she says. “I wanted to stop it for myself and for my young daughter.”
So Brown went through a recovery program for alcoholism. She also began searching for a counseling group for her daughter geared towards kids with alcoholic parents. When she found none, she decided to put all of her counseling training to use and create her own.
“I recruited kids whose parents were in recovery from alcoholism,” she says. “That first group was formed in the fall, and it was just my daughter and a few other kids. But by that following summer, I had 42 kids signed up for the group.”
Brown says she quickly discovered a need for Rainbow Days – and in retrospect, she sees there was a need for it even when she was a child.
“A lot of my childhood was spent being nervous because of home life. I often wonder if life would have been different for me as a kid if there had been a group like this for me. I’d like to think it would have.”
But Brown takes comfort in knowing she was able to intervene in time for her daughter and other kids.
Her daughter, Catherine Decken, echoes those feelings.
“I’m proud of my mom for what she’s overcome, and all the people she’s helped along the way,” says Decken, now 33. “It’s humbling that I was the catalyst for Rainbow Days, but this has gone so far beyond me now. This is so much bigger than just one little girl now.”
And she’s right. Today Rainbow Days has grown into a nonprofit agency that helps about 6,000 kids in the Dallas area who are affected by alcoholism, drug addiction and homelessness.
The objective of Rainbow Days is to help kids in dysfunctional homes stay away from drugs and alcohol. Counselors also help kids open up about their own situations, and teach them positive coping mechanisms.
“All of us are born with certain skills to overcome adversities because we are all naturally resilient, but we can do things to increase that resiliency,” Brown says. “We want to help these kids survive their situations.”
Counseling kids in a group, instead of individually, is part of what makes the program so effective.
“By being in a group with other kids, they find out they’re not the only ones in a dysfunctional home,” Brown says. “A lot of times, these kids feel isolated because they think they’re the only ones with unhappy homes – or worse yet, that it’s somehow their fault. There’s a tremendous relief in knowing you’re not the only one in that boat and that it’s not your fault you’re there.”
Brown says she also has had the joy of witnessing Rainbow Days’ success stories.
“We see kids who come back to us 10, 15, 20 years later. They all tell me there are one or two significant things from Rainbow Days that really made a difference in their lives, but more importantly, they tell me that now they want to be good parents to their kids. Those are the true success stories, because it means we’ve broken the cycle.”
Rainbow Days also partners with other local anti-drug programs, such as the Betty Ford Five Star Kids program in Dallas.
“Betty Ford is actually a big inspiration to me,” Brown says. “I remember seeing her on TV talking about her battle with alcoholism, and I remember thinking that if a first lady could be an alcoholic, then maybe it wasn’t something so shameful after all. Before she spoke out, there really was a stigma attached to alcoholism, especially for women, but she put a face on the issue and helped the public understand it. I had the honor of meeting her, and I’m thrilled to be working with her program.”
Pam Newton is the manager of the Betty Ford Five Star Kids program in Dallas, and she’s a former Rainbow Days counselor.
“There are only three Betty Ford Five Star Kids programs in the entire nation, and the reason we have one here in Dallas is due in large part to Rainbow Days, because we saw them as someone we could work hand in hand” with, she says.
And in fact, Newton and Brown have spent nearly 20 years working toward the common goal of helping at-risk Dallas kids.
“Cathey is a visionary and a leader in the field,” Newton says. “She’s not only working for these kids here in Dallas, but she’s also advocating on their behalf down on the state capitol steps, and she’s also making things happen in Washington. She’s dedicated her life to helping these kids, and there’s something to be said for that.”
And while Brown says her work is “really more of a calling,” she does hope others in our neighborhood feel moved to help.
“We have been blessed in Preston Hollow, but we can’t forget there are kids who haven’t been,” she says. “We have to talk about this issue because it’s just too easy to live in a bubble. We have to be the thorn in society’s side.
“Right now we’re helping thousands of kids in this area, and that’s great. But I want to help even more kids because I know we’re not even scratching the surface of the need that’s out there.
“I wish we weren’t going to be needed, but I think we will, because I don’t think drugs and alcohol are going away. So we will remain that social conscience for Dallas, and the voice for these kids – and just hope more people hear it, and feel moved to help.
“Our name is Rainbow Days, so around here we say that after the thunderstorm, there are rainbows. I hope we can be that rainbow after the storm for these kids.”
For information about Rainbow Days, visit rdikids.com or call 214.887.0726
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