There is no question that Randall McFarland is a difference maker. Having lived in the community for most of his life, Randall is greatly involved in the community of Birmingham. He recounts that as a teenager he would find himself providing friends and family with advice, proving to be a trusted and wise resource to many. He explains, “People would just ask me questions all the time, and I would end up giving advice.” Often, Randall would find himself talking these individuals out of serious life altering decisions. These hard conversations later planted the seed for Randall’s future career in psychology and counseling. Having gone through personal childhood difficulties, Randall reflects and finds that his experiences have led him to give back to the community now. He explains, “I believe that trying to reach adolescents at this particular time is very important before they transition to adulthood.” For over five years, Randall worked at a residential unit and treatment center for adolescents where he met with students one-on-one and in group settings to counsel them, process with them and help them cope with substance abuse and trauma.
Last year, Randall made the transition as a Social Worker to Tarrant High School, where he was introduced to a new way of connecting with students. Randall states that the interaction he has with students at Tarrant is far broader than at the treatment center. Although he saw the students on a more regular basis in the residential treatment center, he has found that he is able to build stronger relationships with the students at Tarrant. By establishing both rapport and respect, Randall has been able to establish a foundation of trust with the students he works alongside. Randall has found that this trust is the foundation to all healthy relationships with the adolescents he works with. He explains, “Rapport is one of my best weapons that I like to use. If you have rapport, you have the best chance of calming them down in a crisis situation.” With the role of both Social Worker and Graduation Coach, Randall has the ability to speak into students’ lives every day, and he has had the opportunity to encourage students to reconsider dropping out and pursue graduating high school.
Through this new position at Tarrant, Randall has been able to bring other organizations into the school that expose the students to resources they need. Randall states, “It is about enlightening them, empowering them, and educating them.” One such resource is INFOCUS through APC, which was passed down to Randall when he began working at the school. This program is a discussion-based group that focuses on eliminating stigma and facilitating conversations regarding substance abuse and other pertaining issues that students have been and will be exposed to. It is through these conversations that students will be able to assume leadership roles in their classrooms and communities to encourage a drug free community. Randall expresses his enthusiasm for what APC is doing through INFOCUS by saying, “Drug and substance use prevention is big, because I know so many teenagers, even friends, who suffer with that. It is on rise, and with APC out here trying to prevent that from happening, I want to be a part of that.” Through these conversations, Randall stated that he has found that not only students, but parents have begun to ask more questions. He explains, “I know it is because of these INFOCUS meetings that they are coming to me.” Students who are not directly involved in INFOCUS, have reached out to Mr. McFarland for resources, exposing the impact of peer-to-peer influence in the school of Tarrant.
Mr. McFarland’s role in this transformation is apparent. From his early childhood to his career, his experiences have
become woven into a tapestry of influence for the community of Birmingham. In his first year of facilitating INFOCUS for Tarrant, Randall was awarded the Difference Marker award at the End of Year Dinner celebration, being recognized as the most celebrated teacher of the year for his dedication to students and substance use prevention. An individual speaking about the nomination said, “Mr. McFarland literally entered each classroom in the school and informed as many students as he could about the program and why we should join. His delivery and pitch were not only fun, but serious as well and we knew it was serious because he started to speak about our future and long-term goals.”
Randall humbly received this award with an $1,000 check, a trophy, and a framed certificate. He reflects, “What I’ve been able to accomplish since I’ve been there has been a blessing. I am humbled. A lot of this I did not expect.” He follows up with saying, “I am thankful to the individuals and professionals who have surrounded me and showed me nothing but love. This journey is new, and I am excited to see where it takes me.” Along with being a Social Worker and Graduation Coach, Randall coaches football at Tarrant, works part time at a psychiatric hospital as well as a counselor for a private counseling company. His heavy involvement in the school of Tarrant and substance use prevention is paving the way for peer-to-peer intervention and further addiction prevention.