From Felon to Founder: Adam Martin’s Journey with the F5 Project

Reduce The Stigma - Recovery Conversations with Adam Martin, Founder and CEO of F5 Project

Recovery Conversations From Felon to Founder: Adam Martin’s Journey with the F5 Project

I'm probably the most unequipped person to ever be a CEO. Like from a typical standpoint, right? Or the stereotypical. I have a GED, I have a felony...But there's a secret sauce about being a peer supporting a peer, right? Or being a peer support supporting a peer or just in general, just a group of people that all want to do better than they did yesterday.

Five-time felon – not something many people would integrate into the name of their organization, or expect to be on the resume of its CEO, but not everyone is Adam Martin. In this episode of Reduce The Stigma – Recovery Conversations, host Whitney Menarcheck speaks with Adam Martin, founder and CEO of F5 Project. What began as a personal journey of redemption has burgeoned into a groundbreaking nonprofit organization that is reshaping the landscape of recovery and re-entry services in the Midwest.

Adam’s path to founding the F5 Project was unconventional, to say the least. As a five-time felon who struggled with addiction, his early years were fraught with turmoil and instability. However, a pivotal moment at a United Way event in 2016 ignited a spark within him—a fervent desire to help others facing similar challenges.

With no business plan or agenda, Adam plunged headfirst into the world of peer support, recognizing a dire need for housing among justice-involved individuals. Thus, the F5 Project was born, officially established in January 2018, with its first house opening its doors just a few months later.

Since then, the F5 Project has undergone exponential growth, boasting over 100 employees and a diverse range of programs, including transitional housing, youth initiatives, and Native American Trauma Healing Programs. Yet, at the core of its success lies a simple yet powerful ethos: peer support.

For Adam, peer support is not just a profession—it’s a way of life. Drawing from his own experiences of recovery and re-entry, he understands the profound impact of authentic connection and empathy. Peer supports at the F5 Project are not mere mentors; they are “ride or die” companions, walking alongside individuals on their journey to wellness and stability.

One of the F5 Project’s crowning achievements is the Ridge, an outpatient treatment center founded in collaboration with Dr. Jackie Gervais. Unlike traditional treatment models, the Ridge places a strong emphasis on peer-led interventions, recognizing the unique value that individuals with lived experience bring to the table.

Central to the F5 Project’s approach is a commitment to performance-based funding, a concept borrowed from Adam’s background in sales and marketing. Instead of relying on inputs, the organization is reimbursed based on tangible outcomes—employment, housing, and sustained recovery. This results-driven approach has yielded remarkable success, with a 75% completion rate among program participants, far surpassing national averages.

Yet, challenges persist. Despite the evidence of peer support’s efficacy, institutional resistance remains entrenched. Adam is undeterred, advocating tirelessly for systemic change and greater recognition of peer support’s value.

In the eyes of Adam Martin, every individual deserves a second chance—a fresh start unencumbered by past mistakes. Through the F5 Project, he is rewriting the narrative of recovery and re-entry, one life at a time. As the organization continues to expand its reach, Adam’s vision of holistic, community-driven support is becoming a reality, offering hope where it once seemed scarce.

Info below on how to catch the full interview.

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