February 29, 2024
Estimated Read Time: 10 min.

Changemaker Spotlight Series – Margaux Mueller, First Call KC

Welcome to Strat Labs’ Changemaker Spotlight Series! This blog series is dedicated to showcasing the inspiring journeys of remarkable individuals who have transformed their passions into purposeful endeavors, leaving a significant impact on the world around them every single day. Join us as we delve into the heart of innovation and commitment, celebrating the extraordinary stories of those who are not just dreaming of a better future but actively shaping it in their journey as a changemaker.

Margaux Mueller serves as the esteemed Director of Prevention Services at First Call Alcohol/Drug Prevention and Recovery, a prominent organization based in Kansas City dedicated to combating substance use disorder. With nearly a decade of experience in the field, Margaux has distinguished herself as a Missouri Advanced Prevention Specialist, a testament to her profound expertise and dedication to the cause.

Margaux’s journey into the realm of substance use prevention is deeply personal. Having been raised in an environment where substance use was a constant presence, she possesses a unique and empathetic understanding of the challenges and complexities associated with addiction. This personal connection fuels her unwavering commitment to the mission of prevention and recovery, driving her to make a meaningful impact in the community.

Margeaux Mueller showing Congresswoman Sharice Davids how to use Naloxone.
Margaux Mueller showing Congresswoman Sharice Davids how to use Naloxone.

What inspired you to embark on your journey in the social impact space?

My inspiration primarily formed in college. I found myself taking a lot of classes on criminal justice and public policy. I’ll never forget a paper that I wrote my senior year of college on juvenile justice. It was about incarceration versus rehabilitation, and that really stuck with me.

However, my inspiration also stems from my childhood experiences. I grew up in a home where substance use disorder or addiction was very prevalent. My mom is in recovery now, but during childhood, she definitely wasn’t. It broke up our family, so now I’m very passionate about spreading the word about substance use disorder and getting people connected with help, but also making sure young people know that there are adults that they can go to and they can feel safe.


Can you describe how you and/or your organization are making a significant social impact?

First Call’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance use disorder by providing quality services to individuals, families, and the community. But, what does that really mean? We provide services along the continuum of care for substance use disorder.

One of the biggest services we offer is a 24-7 crisis call line. It’s always answered by a human voice. We are the only organization in the Kansas City Metro area that’s specific to substance use. However, you don’t have to be in a crisis related to drugs and alcohol to call us. Individuals can be experiencing any type of crisis, and still access our resources.

Something really unique about First Call is that we have programs for family members. There’s not typically a lot of support for family members who are affected. We offer programs for children who have been impacted by someone else’s drug or alcohol use as well as programs for adults that have been impacted, whether that’s a husband or wife, parent, colleague, etc. It is rare to find agencies that offer programs like this for the family. First Call is unique in the fact that we understand that it’s a family disease, and are approaching the problem based on that understanding.


Can you tell us about a project or initiative you’re particularly proud of and its impact on the community or issue it addresses?

One of the things First Call as an organization is very proud of right now is our harm-reduction work, which we received a federal grant to support. We are the largest distributor of Naloxone or Narcan products for the Kansas City Metro area. We distribute it for free, along with fentanyl test strips. Then, we provide training on how to spot an overdose.

Our Harm Reduction Specialist goes out into the community and meets people where they are. For example, she’ll visit camps of unhoused people to make sure that they have wound care and Narcan. If those individuals express interest in treatment, we will absolutely connect them, but they don’t necessarily have to have sobriety as their goal for us to provide them with services. I think everyone deserves a chance and access to resources to keep them alive.


What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered while pursuing your purpose, and how have you overcome them?

Another piece of First Call’s prevention programming is working with students throughout the area as early as kindergarten, up to 12th grade. We’re one of the only prevention agencies that provides this level of direct service, going into the schools and working with the same students every week to develop a program. It can definitely be a challenge to get into schools and have positive messaging around drug and alcohol use.

Another recent challenge I’ve faced is related to the harm reduction projects that we’re doing right now. When we first received this grant, it was illegal for someone to have fentanyl test strips in their possession, and of course, we passed them out for free. That was definitely a barrier because individuals were worried about carrying them. Luckily, since we received the grant, Missouri has implemented a new policy where it’s no longer illegal to have them, Also, related to harm reduction, we have faced hesitancy from some of our partners about having Narcan on hand. For example, our largest police department, Kansas City Police Department, wasn’t allowed to administer Narcan until very, very recently. Even if they encountered someone who had overdosed, they would have to find a citizen to administer the Narcan. That was very problematic. Schools also can’t administer it at school, so if a student is overdosing at school, then they have to wait for the nurse.

Overall, the stigma of substance use disorder, or addiction, is something our organization is constantly fighting.


In your opinion, what are some emerging trends or innovations in your industry that have the potential to drive significant change?

I would definitely consider harm reduction to be new, especially to the Midwest. We’re nowhere near where California or the Pacific Northwest is, but I think that our community is getting more and more familiar with it. That said, the way our Harm Reduction Specialist presents the information is really helpful because we all can play a part in harm reduction. You might not be fully comfortable with reversing a drug overdose, but you might be comfortable with putting on sunscreen or wearing a seatbelt in the car. Our messaging is that we all do harm reduction in some way, but it’s important to play the part where you feel comfortable.

Then, the battle of getting harm reduction into the hands of young people is also a newer thing. We have finally gotten schools on board with the idea, but unfortunately, our community across the nation is typically reactive instead of proactive. Many times, we receive a call after an overdose happens, and they want to do a community awareness event, but we’re trying to do that ahead of time to prevent these deaths from happening.


How do you define “Changemaker”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A changemaker is someone that is not only talking the talk, but walking the walk and putting their money where their mouth is. They have boots on the ground and are not just talking about what we need to do, but listening to the community about what it needs, and then actually following through with that. Oftentimes, we see agencies, nonprofits, organizations, and even corporations that are asking community groups what they need, but there’s not always follow through.


What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own journey as a changemaker within the social impact space?

My advice would be to just start doing the work and figure out what you’re passionate about.

Additionally, recognize that in this work, everyone is a partner. Everyone has a role to play. There is no organization or business that can’t work with you to do this type of work. Instead of working against other organizations, figure out how your missions can work together.

That has been my biggest takeaway in my work — it’s not about who’s providing more services, or who has a large financial grant or a strong partnership. It’s about how you can work together. For example, over the last year of our harm-reduction work, we’ve partnered with a few nonprofits. One of them provides fresh local produce to address food insecurity. Someone that is worried about where their next meal is coming from is likely not ready to talk about changing their substance use pattern. However, by meeting people where they are and understanding that in order to make big changes for mental health or substance use, you have to work together to ensure people’s basic needs are met too.

My last piece of advice I would give to someone looking to start this type of work is to take a class on cultural competency and implicit bias. Always be checking your bias.


Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for the future of your work, and how do you plan to continue your journey as a changemaker?

I would love to continue doing this work and continue growing in leadership with it.

A goal would be to keep expanding our team. When I started at First Call eight and a half years ago, I was a community Prevention Specialist on a team of three people. Now, I’m the Director of Prevention and there are 12 people on the team. It’s exciting to see our organization continue to grow. The culture here is great, and I feel a lot of support for professional development.


What are a few “Things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

Be patient. Don’t tell people what they need, but rather let them tell you. Also, when I moved to Kansas City, it had been a long time since I lived here. I didn’t understand all of the history of Kansas City and how historically racist our city is, as well as the overall stigma of violence. I remember going to a few meetings within my first year of work and my local family members would tell me to be careful. I would have to remind them that they don’t truly know what’s happening in the areas they perceive to be dangerous.  It is important for someone early in their changemaker work to tune out the opinions and biases of others, and do the learning themselves as well as listen to their community.


Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We do a lot of public speaking on the prevention team, such as presentations about vaping or mental health. The first presentation I ever did was for a group of high school students, and I read from a paper the entire time. I was so nervous and wasn’t making eye contact. It took place at a trampoline park, so I could have made it way more fun with those high school students.  The colleagues that I presented with that day always laugh about this first presentation. Now, I’m giving presentations at national conferences, and it’s no big thing!

The lesson I learned is: don’t take yourself too seriously. Meet the audience where they are, trust your gut, you know your stuff.


How do you approach collaboration and partnerships in the social impact sector, and what role do they play in achieving your goals?

With new partnerships, I always lead with curiosity. Even if it may not be the right fit for a First Call partnership, I will always approach the conversation with curiosity. As I said earlier, there’s always an opportunity to work with someone. You just have to find the right way to do it. So, I approach potential partners with an open mind, understanding that it might not work, but typically can find a way to work together.

Other times, depending on the partner, I try to incentivize everything. For example, if we want a school to participate in a committee that meets every month, we’ll offer to fund programs for their students or send them to a conference in Washington, D.C. Finding a way to make a partnership mutually beneficial is so important. To emphasize it again, don’t tell a partner what you think they need. Let them identify that themselves — or help them identify their need — and then they will come to you with open arms and welcome any opportunity.


How do you stay motivated and resilient in the face of setbacks or obstacles in your social impact journey?

I would love to say I don’t take work home with me, but I do. I think that I always remember the small wins and understand that prevention work is not necessarily measurable all the time. I know I’m not going to get my desired outcomes right away. Sometimes it takes a few months or a few years to see community change, so small wins are motivating. If one student opens up to me and tells me that they’ve had a bad day or if a partner invites us back to their school, I  celebrate those wins. If one kid that I work with trusts me, then I know I’m doing a good job.

I had a friend call me the other day—he works for another nonprofit—and he had an employee that was struggling with mental health, and I was his first call. Things like that keep me motivated that the message is spreading and people know that I’m here.


Why should people pay attention to the issues you work on?

Everyone knows someone impacted by substance use disorder or addiction. We all know someone, and if you don’t know someone now, you’ll likely meet someone in your lifetime, and it’s always good to know somewhere that you can call for help. People should pay attention to it because resources like First Call are here to help you start those hard conversations. You might not be impacted now, but if you hear of a friend that’s impacted or struggling and you don’t know what to say, having knowledge of the resources out there can really help someone start that conversation.

It’s important to pay attention because it’s not just about recreational drug use, and it’s not only chronic drug users that are dying from overdoses. It’s gotten way more dangerous. The rate of substance use has decreased, but the risk associated with it has increased over the last few years.


To learn more about the impactful and important work that First Call Kansas City is doing, visit their website at www.firstcallkc.org.

If you are interested in connecting with Margaux Mueller to learn more about her changemaker journey, you can contact her at mmueller@firstcallkc.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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