From Counseling to Consulting: Alumni Spotlight on Zach Stone
October 26, 2015
It’s often said that the road to success is not a straight line, but your experiences along the way define who you are. For Zach Stone, a 2011 graduate of Drexel’s Behavioral Health Counseling program, his path included risks, failures, and challenging the norm, but he always stayed true to his core beliefs.
“You need to help the community. You need to help others. It’s your role in the world as human beings to be there for one another,” said Stone, whose enthusiasm is contagious, even over the phone. In person, his effect is even stronger. Stone knows this, and has strategically capitalized on his strengths to create a unique yet impactful business called the Red Kite Project. It wasn’t easy finding his sweet spot, though, and Stone overcame significant adversity and uncertainty to get where he is today.
It took Stone a bit of time to come to the realization that he could turn his passions for counseling, crisis management and group facilitation into a successful business. In high school, Stone was exposed to gangs, violence, and a culture of apathy. In elementary school he was misdiagnosed with a learning disability, and struggled in traditional learning environments until college.
“I don’t know how I made it through,” said Stone, remembering more uncertain and chaotic times. What Stone did have, though, was a passion he was committed to following and a support system that reverberated community transformation and change.
As a teenager – and even today – Stone’s true passion was group facilitation, and he wasn’t afraid to admit that. His mother suggested he get involved with Help Increase the Peace, an organization focused on addressing violence in prisons and schools with gang violence, which snowballed into participation with other social impact groups. Stone knew he wanted to pursue his passions of helping others, building resiliency, and furthering his education, so he began his search for the right school to help him achieve his goals.
After spending some time at community college in Vermont, Stone ultimately returned to Pennsylvania and completed his associate’s degree at the Community College of Philadelphia. Still hungry for more, Stone enrolled in Drexel’s Behavioral Health Counseling program following his grandfather’s endorsement, and graduated less than two years later. “‘Drexel is for do-ers,” said Stone, remembering his grandfather’s advice. “When I got to Drexel, I realized he was right. It was where I honed my skills and got a graduate-level experience as an undergrad.”
Stone’s degree empowered him to co-found Red Kite Project and dive head-first into one of their first – and most significant – contracts. SEPTA approached Stone and Charlotte DiBartolomeo, CEO, and asked if they could help improve employee performance. Through innovative methods borrowed from post-war and conflict zones like Bosnia and Rwanda, as well as techniques and philosophies learned at Drexel,Stone and DiBartolomeo delivered for SEPTA. For the past five years they have helped reduce assaults on SEPTA employees by nearly 65% and reduced absenteeism of new hires by 50% during the same time period.
The exceptional results achieved during the SEPTA contract piqued interest from the transportation industry, but also drew attention from the medical and military industries. Red Kite Project is now pioneering resiliency building and trauma healing programs to help new companies the same way they helped Septa. “Collaborating with organizations like Apple, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Penn Medicine and the Department of State brings us great honor,” said Stone. “It’s where our future is.”
Now that Stone’s role is shifting away from facilitation and towards strategy and business development, he can focus more on enhancing his product and integrating technology and continued learning into Red Kite Project’s training models.
Stone believes that Red Kite Project should mirror tech start-ups and stay adaptable and agile in dynamic environments. He also remains fully committed to his core principle that organizations need to give back to their communities. “We want to make sure we have a really strong role in our community, wherever that is, because we believe that if we help take care of the city, it will take care of us.”