The evolution of SAARA began with a group of individuals who responded to a sign-up sheet circulated at a Substance Abuse Awareness Week luncheon in Fairfax County, Virginia in November 1996. After several preliminary meetings, the group drafted a mission statement, and shortly thereafter an attorney consumer drafted the necessary incorporation papers. Incorporation as SAARA of Northern Virginia was obtained in 1997 and the organization received its non-profit 501 (c) (3) status in 1998. An early decision was made for SAARA to be as inclusive as possible.


SAARA would reach out to the entire community, supplementing and complementing the efforts of twelve-step organizations for those in recovery, family members, and others affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs, and anyone else supportive of SAARA's goals and objectives.

Mobilizing the Recovery Community & Maintaining Authenticity of Voice

From its inception in 1997, SAARA has recruited, engaged, and retained significant numbers of families with children in treatment and Recovery, adults who were in Recovery and on the staff of organizations providing substance abuse treatment and prevention services, and members of recovery networks associated with alumni groups. Many original objectives and activities were designed to attract members from these populations within the recovery community and to improve outreach to minorities, including gays and lesbians, pregnant and newly delivered women, individuals new to recovery, students and other populations underrepresented in the SAARA membership.


Efforts to mobilize the Recovery Community and develop a network of SAARA affiliates throughout Virginia began to make significant progress in the fall of 2000. Since then, SAARA has been working to develop affiliates throughout the Commonwealth and it continues to be a priority for our organization.

Expansion to a Statewide Organization

One of the major accomplishments of SAARA as a grassroots addictions advocacy organization has been the shift of focus from local interest to statewide advocacy. It became clear that a statewide structure was needed to guide the process and provide an organizational umbrella to achieve SAARA's mission of building community understanding of addiction and support of resources and services for addictions; prevention, intervention, treatment and Recovery through advocacy, education and communication.


From the onset, SAARA of Northern Virginia was instrumental in the formation of a statewide organization. As a successful recipient of an RCSP Track I grant, it built its base in the local community in Northern Virginia and expanded its activities quickly to other communities throughout the state. Using a peer model of "affiliates helping affiliates" (based on the 12-Step Recovery approach); consumer leaders quickly realized that Virginia could have both local autonomy and continue to be active members of a statewide advocacy organization. In fact, the statewide status would enable SAARA to become a visible, credible organization in a relatively short period of time. The challenge for SAARA was to make the transition from a number of autonomous, geographically diverse local affiliates, to a strong affiliation of organizations. The goal was to form a strong statewide organization, comprised of the SAARA Affiliates, to accomplish the following functions:

  • Provide a governing body and leadership for consensus building regarding future directions and policy.

  • Assume the role of facilitator for statewide activities.

  • Provide adequate resources organizationally and financially for member Affiliates.

This transition was successful and the SAARA of Virginia office was established in Glen Allen, Virginia in August 2002. SAARA of Virginia remains in Richmond today and continues its work to build and support affiliates across the state.

SAARA of Virginia's Future

 SAARA will be a clearing house for substance use disorder service resources. We will increase our visibility and become the Recovery subject matter expert for the Commonwealth. We will seek opportunities to carry the message of Recovery as the solution on a local and State level, advocating to increase resources and reduce stigma. Expanding Recovery Support Services will be a priority. We will increase membership and partnerships to include youth, family members, impaired professionals, businesses, concerned citizens, faith based organizations, etc. SAARA remain fiscally sound and diversify its funding base through grants, corporate support and fund raising. Our primary support is from the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block grant through a by contract with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, and grant funding from Richmond Behavioral Health Authority.