About the Step Ahead Founders

James W. Mell, LCADC
Executive Director

Jim is the co-founder of Step Ahead. After a successful career as a member of the Blair Academy faculty for almost a decade, he has pursued a long and distinguished career in the field of substance abuse. Beginning in 1970, Jim sat on the Board of Trustees of a leading, nationally known residential treatment center. As such he was given the responsibility of designing a treatment program for the patients' relatives, to include a residential component. After researching the project in the United States and Canada, Jim found very few family therapy opportunities within the substance abuse field and no residential, on-site ones. Consequently, Jim custom designed the program out of his experience.

The program he designed was the first onsite residential program for the relatives of chemically dependent people in the country. Jim was hired as the Family Program Director. Within three years, he was working with other leading professionals in the State of New Jersey, to create the New Jersey Association of Alcoholism Counselors (now the New Jersey Association of Addiction Counselors.)

Jim was one of the first counselors to be certified in the state of New Jersey and was the chairperson of the family treatment committee of the organization. In 1979 he was elected president of the Counselors Association. In 1985, the treatment center at which Jim was employed became the first substance abuse agency to become tobacco-free. In April of 1993, Jim was elected to succeed Geraldine O. Delaney as the Chief Executive Officer of the Little Hill Foundation, Inc., operating Little Hill-Alina Lodge, in Blairstown, NJ.

Upon leaving this position, Jim and his wife, Karen, founded Step Ahead, Inc. Since founding Step Ahead, Jim has acted as a consultant for The Addressing Tobacco Project, Inc. of New Brunswick, NJ, giving training presentations around the State of New Jersey for agencies looking to become tobacco-free. He has also served as consultant to Mountainside Lodge, a residential treatment center for substance abuse in Canaan, CT to implement their grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create a nicotine dependence component for their staff and patients. Jim accomplished this, including the creation of a nicotine Dependence Program Manual, custom-made for Mountainside.

He has also consulted with The Kent School, a private boarding school in Kent, CT to assist them in dealing effectively with the school communities' tobacco issues. Additionally, Jim has served on the Roxbury Chamber of Commerce Board and is a member of the Morris County and Warren County Professional Advisory Committees on Substance Abuse. He is a member and past chairperson of the Roxbury Municipal Alliance Committee (ROMAC), a voluntary committee dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse, including the use of tobacco, in Roxbury, NJ. Jim received special commandations from the Roxbury Township Committee for his work with this committee.

Jim was the recipient of the Geraldine O. Delaney Award in 1992, presented by the Warren County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse for his "outstanding contributions in the field of alcohol and substance abuse." Jim has presented numerous lectures and workshops at conferences, treatment centers, educational agencies and civic groups throughout the tri-state area. He is known for his thoroughness, nonjudgementalism and professionalism throughout the field.

Jim has been married to Karen since 1968. They have two grown daughters and four grandchildren. He is a graduate of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA. Jim enjoys many sporting activities and is organist and choir director at his church.

"Thank you for being the first to start me on my road to recovery. You are a shining example that this program works "If" you work it! Please know that it was your balance and spirituality that set a strong example for my program! I was told to stick with the winners, and you are winners!" -- A Grateful Recovering Alcoholic

Karen J. Mell, LCADC
Assistant Director

Karen is the co-founder of Step Ahead, Inc. She has participated professionally in the substance abuse field for over thirty years. Her career began in 1968 as the executive secretary to the Chief Executive Officer of Little Hill-Alina Lodge, a nationally known residential treatment center for substance abuse. After the birth of her first child, Karen returned to the center as the Director of Admissions, a position she maintained until the birth of her second child. Upon returning to work, she assisted the accreditation coordinator, helping the facility become one of the first private residential substance abuse rehabilitation centers in the country to become accredited.

As Karen's work continued it was clear that she should become involved in the treatment end of rehabilitation. She began to work with the residential family program, leading groups, doing individual counseling and making presentations to the treatment population. In 1983 she gained her certification as a substance abuse counselor and began taking on a caseload of chemically dependent people in addition to her family program duties. Karen became the director of the facilities' family program in 1993.

Karen has also been a consultant for The Addressing Tobacco Project, Inc. of New Brunswick, NJ, presenting training sessions on setting tobacco policy and treating tobacco dependence in the work place and health care settings. She created and implemented a "healthy body" curriculum for preschoolers dealing in an appropriate way for this age group with the health issues of tobacco use. The program has received wonderful acclaim from daycare and preschool personnel. Karen has presented numerous workshops and lectures, including being a lecturer for the Rutgers Summer School of Alcohol Studies in 1996.

She has been cited by many for her articulate presentations and compassionate counseling style. Karen is a member of the Roxbury Municipal Alliance Committee (ROMAC), Roxbury's voluntary committee dedicated to the prevention of alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse within the community.

Karen is the mother of two grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is active in her church and civic affairs.


Step Ahead Inc.
54 Main Street,
Suite 201
New Jersey 07876

  • 1-877-927-7837
  • 1-973-927-9555
  • 1-973-927-2250 (fax)


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