Unconventional Methods, Profound Transformations: The Other Side Academy’s Inspiring Journey
In mid-May 2023, I had the privilege of attending the annual conference of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA) held in Salt Lake City, Utah. These gatherings are always a valuable opportunity to connect with colleagues, share insights, and learn about innovative approaches to financial education and counseling. However, this year, one presentation stood out to me in a profound way.
This highlight was not a presentation on a new budgeting tool or a discussion on the latest regulatory changes. Instead, it was a deeply personal and inspiring story told by Dave Durocher, the Executive Director of The Other Side Academy, a life skills academy based in Salt Lake City.
Dave is not your typical executive director. His resume does not boast a prestigious MBA or a series of progressive roles in high-profile corporations. Instead, Dave has traveled a challenging and unconventional path to leadership, a path that included multiple arrests, years in prison, and a transformative experience at Delancey Street, a residential self-help organization for former substance abusers and convicts.
This path led him to become a passionate advocate for helping others like him find a path to honesty, accountability, integrity, hard work, and self-respect. Through his leadership at The Other Side Academy, Dave is working to insulate others from the life he once had and enable them to become the kind of person he is today. His presentation at the FCAA conference was a powerful testament to his journey and the transformative work of The Other Side Academy.
A Captivating Story of Redemption and Transformation
Dave Durocher’s life is a testament to the power of transformation and second chances. He was first arrested at the tender age of thirteen, and by the time he was 38, Dave had spent a total of fifteen years in prison, scattered across four separate sentences. His life took a turn when facing a daunting twenty-nine-year sentence, he was granted what the presiding judge called “the chance of a lifetime.”
Instead of returning to prison, Dave was given the opportunity to attend Delancey Street, a residential self-help organization based in California. If he did not complete his commitment at Delancey Street, he was made to understand clearly that he would be spending the rest of his life in prison.
Far from just completing his initial two-year commitment, Dave ended up staying at Delancey Street for a total of eight years. During five of those years, he served as the Managing Director of Delancey Street’s Los Angeles facility. There, he managed two hundred and fifty residents and numerous vocational training school businesses. These businesses not only funded the operations of the facility but also provided a platform for residents to learn how to live a constructive and meaningful life. Under Dave’s leadership, the facility saw a 300% increase in revenue.
Dave’s experience at Delancey Street transformed him from a frequent convict to a skilled manager and inspiring public speaker. He dedicated his life to helping others regain their dignity and their lives, proving that change is indeed possible.
The next chapter of his life led him to Salt Lake City as the Executive Director of The Other Side Academy, a two-year Life Skills Academy similar to Delancey Street. Here, men and women learn about honesty, accountability, integrity, hard work, and self-respect. These are the traits that Dave believes will insulate them from a life like the one he had and enable them to become the kind of person he is today.
During his presentation at the FCAA annual conference, Dave’s passion for the work he is doing was palpable. He delivered his story with high energy, captivating all who listened, and making it clear that he is devoted to the mission of The Other Side Academy.
The Other Side Academy: Building a Therapeutic Community
As impactful as Dave Durocher’s personal story was, the transformative work happening at The Other Side Academy (TOSA) was equally impressive. The organization’s roots are traced back to 2014 when Joseph Grenny, a bestselling business author, received a letter from an inmate named Zach. Zach, having spent twelve of the previous sixteen years of his life incarcerated, was desperate for change. He had found a copy of Grenny’s book, Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, and was inspired by the work of Delancey Street, the organization that had transformed Dave’s life.
Zach’s sincere desire for change set in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to the establishment of TOSA. Joseph Grenny, along with his wife, Celia, felt compelled to bring the model of Delancey Street to Utah, believing that there were many like Zach who wanted to change but lacked the tools to do so.
Just a year after Zach’s initial letter, the infrastructure for TOSA was in place. The team included four highly qualified graduates of Delancey Street, including Dave Durocher, who left their lives elsewhere to lead the effort in Utah. In December 2015, the historic Armstrong Mansion in downtown Salt Lake City became home to TOSA, marking a significant milestone in their journey.
The Other Side Academy operates on the principle of a “therapeutic community,” an environment where individuals learn about honesty, accountability, integrity, hard work, and self-respect. At the heart of this community is a simple wooden bench. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, anyone who is serious about changing their lives can sit on this bench and be interviewed for a place at TOSA. This bench—and the community it represents—is a potent symbol of the organization’s commitment to change, a commitment that began with one man’s sincere desire for a different life.
During the FCAA conference, Dave was accompanied by individuals who had experienced the transformative power of TOSA. Some had stayed beyond their original terms, continuing to contribute to the community and help others find success. Their stories, like Dave’s, were powerful testimonies to the impact of The Other Side Academy’s work. It was a vivid reminder that thinking outside of the box can indeed lead to profound changes in individuals and society.
Financial Success Program: A Crucial Foundation for New Beginnings
After getting a glimpse into the transformative work that takes place at The Other Side Academy, it’s equally important to highlight an essential component that complements this process – the Financial Success Program. Spearheaded by Lindsey Nelson, a one-person HR Department, and Executive Assistant for the Leadership Team, this program provides graduates with the tools they need to thrive financially in their newfound lives.
But Lindsey is more than just a dedicated team member; she is a testament to the transformative power of programs like The Other Side Academy. Once a high-achieving student and professional ballerina, Lindsey’s life took a tragic turn when she succumbed to drug addiction. Over a period of fifteen years, she experienced the devastating impacts of substance abuse, which included severe illness, an opioid overdose, and a complete loss of self-worth.
However, Lindsey’s story doesn’t end there. One day, she decided to reclaim her life. She enrolled in The John Volken Academy, a two-year therapeutic community modeled after Delancey Street. Although the journey was challenging, Lindsey persevered. She discovered the power of ownership and accountability and reconnected with the values and integrity she had lost in the chaos of addiction.
Her transformation is profound, and her passion for giving back is palpable. After graduating from The John Volken Academy, Lindsey joined The Other Side Academy to contribute to their life-saving mission. Her role in developing and leading the Financial Success Program ensures that graduates have the financial knowledge and skills necessary for a successful fresh start.
Lindsey, a Utah Valley University graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication, is a beacon of hope and an embodiment of the program’s potential. Her personal journey impressed upon me of how transformation adds a powerful layer of authenticity to her work, making her an invaluable asset to The Other Side Academy and a living testament to the power of second chances.
Reflecting on The Other Side Academy’s Impact: Lessons for the Credit Counseling Industry
As a board member of the FCAA and the Senior Manager of Compliance and Media for Money Fit, my professional life is centered on improving financial literacy and health. While our missions may seem distinct, the principles that guide The Other Side Academy and our organization, at their core, are remarkably similar.
SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s quote about TOSA resonates. She commends TOSA for its commitment to empowering its participants, a commitment evident in its success in managing a peer-based community. It’s a sentiment that rings true for us at Money Fit too and one that reminds me of the need for community involvement and engagement.
“The Other Side Academy is a partner that is so devoted to the success and the empowerment of its current students, many of whom are standing with us today. They have a proven track record that we know here in Salt Lake City of successfully managing a peer-based community while being a positive neighbor to the community they live and work in as well as the rest of Salt Lake City. And I know that their devotion and their passion for success will translate into The Other Side Village work we are doing together.” SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall
Just as TOSA works to rebuild lives from the ground up, teaching honesty, accountability, and hard work, we at Money Fit strive to impart vital financial knowledge, empowering individuals to take control of their financial futures. We strive to be a positive influence, much like TOSA, providing the tools necessary for individuals to make informed financial decisions.
The Other Side Academy is a testament to the transformative power of education, community, and the will to change. It’s a powerful reminder that thinking outside the box, whether it’s providing an alternative to traditional punitive measures or offering unconventional financial advice, can lead to meaningful and lasting change.
In conclusion, the FCAA conference was more than just an annual gathering of financial counseling professionals. It was an opportunity to learn about remarkable work being done outside of our immediate field. It’s prompted me to reflect on the ways we can innovate and expand our services, and it’s underscored the importance of remaining open to new ideas and approaches. After all, it is often the most unconventional methods that lead to the most profound transformations.