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Addiction recovery app makes its debut

| Monday, July 18, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
My New Leaf app is released in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
My New Leaf app is released in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
CEO Ryan Brannon presents his My New Leaf app while motioning to his father Ryan, his COO, during a release presentation in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
CEO Ryan Brannon presents his My New Leaf app while motioning to his father Ryan, his COO, during a release presentation in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Executive Director of FAVOR Greenville (S.C.) Rich Jones listens to a release presentation for My New Leaf app in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Executive Director of FAVOR Greenville (S.C.) Rich Jones listens to a release presentation for My New Leaf app in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Executive Director of the Westmoreland Drug Overdose Task Force Tim Phillips talks about local addiction issues while seated next to Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli and Indiana County Sheriff Bob Fyock during a release presentation for My New Leaf app in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Executive Director of the Westmoreland Drug Overdose Task Force Tim Phillips talks about local addiction issues while seated next to Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli and Indiana County Sheriff Bob Fyock during a release presentation for My New Leaf app in Saltsburg on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. My New Leaf helps those struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Ryan Brannon saw the need for a mobile app to help recovering addicts of his generation when he was a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania two years ago.

With a team of 13 friends and people he found through college networking or online advertisements, Brannon formed a nonprofit, raised $70,000 and is now on the doorstep of filling that need with the public release of the app, My New Leaf.

At the nonprofit's office in Saltsburg last week, the app was unveiled in a “ribbon cutting” ceremony before members of recovery agencies that are being asked to test and review it for the next month.

“The release was a very nerve-wracking experience for me because we were finally showing (the app) beyond pictures,” Brannon said. “It was a relief that they were receptive and impressed.”

The agencies — New Kensington's Lost Dreams Awakening, Indiana's The Open Door, FAVOR Greenville and Penn Run's SpiritLife — will offer feedback that will be used to tweak the app and get it ready for public release for Apple and Android devices in three to six months.

The early reviews from representatives of the agencies were positive.

“We feel this app is tailor-made for peer recovery services,” said Rich Jones, executive director of FAVOR Greenville.

The app is designed to keep users a few taps away from a support system of their choosing, which can include therapists, friends, family and hotlines.

Brannon said he and his app have come a long way since he was a senior in college and recognized the need for the drug addiction recovery resource.

“We didn't really envision it becoming a full-blown company,” said the 24-year-old executive director of the nonprofit, also named My New Leaf. “It grew as we started to understand the potential it could have.”

Brannon, who early in the project worked flexible, part-time jobs while developing the app, is now devoted full time to My New Leaf — the app and nonprofit.

The app — which Brannon said has three times the features it had in its early days — works to provide comfort, motivation, validation and education on the user's path to recovery. All of the features can be unlocked over the course of two or three months.

The app starts once the user plants a tree seed that will grow to symbolize their personal self-growth. In-app actions, such as keeping a journal and reading health articles, yield points that are redeemed for digital and physical rewards.

A road map tracks the activities that can result in recovery: diagnosis, determining personal motivation, making amends, cataloging gratitude and listing goals.

Brannon worked with doctors and therapists across Western Pennsylvania to refine the app's content and recovery methods.

“It's reactive in the way that having a conversation is reactive,” Brannon said. “We strive to provide a warm environment — nice music, scenery — as well as uplifting and positive things to do within the app.”

Rolando Schneiderman, My New Leaf's iOS developer, said he thinks the app will be effective because it focuses on improving communication.

“Millennials are very expressive and open with their phones,” he said. “A lot of recovery and helping people through the process is about communication.”

Natalie Wickman is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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