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Change Agents

Change Agents
Felix Winternitz

Neil F. Tilow has a few choice words for his former colleagues inside the Xavier post office: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The president and CEO of the Talbert House—Cincinnati’s largest addiction recovery community—says his career path all started with a seemingly innocuous stint as a mail carrier on campus back in the early 1970s. Tilow was making his appointed rounds one day when he chanced a conversation with fellow employee Jack Richardson, who informed him there was an opening at Talbert House. Tilow immediately applied and interviewed for the position—wearing paint-splattered cutoff shorts and flip-flops, no less. He handily won the job, which involved monitoring activities and security inside the Walnut Hills halfway house.

“It was really the Xavier connection that got me into the field I’ve been in for 37 years,” says Tilow, who earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1974 and master’s degree in corrections in 1980.

Today, Talbert House is an umbrella organization housing a massive network of neighborhood services, ranging from drug and alcohol abuse programs to behavioral health clinics, from contracted corrections to welfare-to-work operations.

“When I took over, it had a $1 million budget,” he says. “Now we have 800 staff and a $50 million budget, running 40 programs.”

Working just 12 blocks from campus at the nonprofit’s headquarters on Victory Parkway, the Cleveland native brings his own entrepreneurial flair to the field of community engagement. Tilow favors strategic business models over some traditional social service approaches.

One such innovation is the launch of DocuPro, a document destruction service that employs successful graduates with mental health, drug or alcohol issues. The venture then invests any profits back into the Talbert mission: Help people make whatever transitions they need in order to push their lives forward.

Related employment endeavors include Talbert House’s job training initiative for nonviolent offenders. And there’s been the addition of a substance testing lab, which offers rapid alcohol and drug screening services to satisfy wary employers.

Be it drug court concepts or DUI intervention, innovative adolescent therapy or parolee supervision, Tilow and his Talbert House counselors collectively impact some 30,000-plus clients per year. It’s a growth model that’s become all about personal growth.

As Tilow concedes with a modest shrug, “It’s a lot of lives to touch.”

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