Aaron Marks was elected president of the Stella Maris board of directors Oct. 29.

Stella Maris has provided drug and alcohol treatment services in Greater Cleveland since 1948. Marks had his own experience with a substance abuse disorder, and was “fortunate” to have proper insurance to get the help he needed. However, he said not everybody has the same luxuries.

“Whether you have insurance or not, whether you can pay for it or not, I think everybody deserves to have that right to be able to get better,” said Marks, who previously served as the treasurer on the board of directors.

Marks was honored by the Cleveland Jewish News in 2018 as a member of 12 Under 36: Members of the Tribe.

Marks discussed his goals in his new role with the Cleveland Jewish News.

CJN: What is it about this position that is so important to you?

Marks: I was fortunate enough when I was trying to find treatment for a substance use disorder, to have insurance and get all the help that I needed. And I was able to get through that, started to live in recovery and kind of move forward with my life. When I think about ways to give back, the one thing that always comes to mind is that I truly believe that everybody deserves the same level of care.

CJN: How has your Judaism played a role in your work with the community?

Marks: I think the way that I was raised was this idea that we’re all part of this human family. We need to take care of each other. There’s a phrase that if you save one person, you save the world. And I very much view things that way. If we can help one person, that person then goes on to help so many more people, and the lives that they touch moving forward are exponential.

CJN: What was your main takeaway during the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of mental health and your work with the community?

Marks: I think it was extremely challenging. It really impacted things negatively, from all directions. You had this increase of fear, isolation and all the turmoil from the rhetoric flying around from all sides. There was just a lot of anger and other things that drove people towards using and drinking. And it had a huge impact on people’s mental health and well-being. At the same time, you had restrictions and limits to how you’re able to provide care. You had less access to in-person mental health treatment. Stella, specifically, did an incredible job navigating through the pandemic. They made sure that we had adequate amounts of testing and procedures to be able to get people into treatment safely without impacting people who are on campus.

CJN: What do you hope to accomplish in this position?

Marks: Anytime there’s any sort of disruption to the economy such as COVID-19, that sometimes causes a big spike in substance use disorder and alcoholism, as well as a real resurgence of growth in methamphetamines –

which we haven’t seen much in this region, but that’s starting to kind of take hold. So, there’s just a constant and evolving problem. Where I hope to be helpful here is to make sure that the organization stays focused on how to grow sustainably, continue to increase our presence in the community, make sure that we’re able to provide the best care to as many people as possible and position ourselves to continue to be able to do that in the future.

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