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Guide at the end of the tunnel

Recovery coaches light the way for beating addiction

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Mary Kate Farley, Community Engagement Coordinator, and Linda Sarage, the Project Director of The Recover Project, in their offices on Federal St.

GREENFIELD — Recovering from addiction is, famously, not easy.

Recovery coaches might not be the answer, but they might have an answer, or know someone who does, or have some suggestions in the right direction.

The prospect of helping others out of addiction was enough to draw 20 people to the intensive one-week recovery coach training last week in the RECOVER Project offices, where most members of the peer-to-peer center are in recovery themselves.

Sitting with seven other participants after a class session last week Kaitlyn John, 32, of Greenfield and more recently Turners Falls, said she is sick of losing friends. “We were talking abut that gray area, people that are dying and getting overlooked. I’ve lost nine friends since January, and I’m sick of losing friends, and I want to have more tools to help people,” she said.

RECOVER Project Director Linda Sarage said the recovery coach concept is beginning to gain traction at the state level, which she sees as a reflection of a shifting focus to supporting addiction recovery from the ground up, training recovering addicts and professionals who regularly interact with addiction to fill a support and advisory role.

The 20 participants last week — RECOVER Project members and staffers from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Clinical and Support Options and the YMCA — participated in a 30-hour training for a certificate as recovery coaches. At present, the certificates aren’t backed up by any state licensure that would allow coaches to bill insurance for their services, but RECOVER Project staffer Mary Kate Farley said the hope is that it will become a billable service.

Trainee and RECOVER Project member Don Wright hopes to use the training to help others making the adjustment from recovery in jail to recovery in the community. If the concept becomes further accepted by the state, he hopes to be among the people jails might call on an inmate’s release to meet that person and help them move forward.

“We will be the people who will be the ones who will integrate more smoothly into the community because of the peer-to-peer experience, we have experience, learned experience that makes us able to reach out to those who are not there yet about the process of recovery,” Wright said.

Wright, 56, and now of South Deerfield, said he was released from the Franklin County House of Correction six months ago, into an apartment in the Winslow Apartments on Wells Street through the new jail-to-community program. People kept telling him to visit the RECOVER Project, he said, so he did.

“There’s a real stigma about the guys that come from the county jail, and sometimes we seem to go in a different direction, but with the support of the community reaching out ... I’m the result of that. The community welcomed me and I’ve been here ever since,” Wright said. “So it works.”

The resources Wright is looking for or found, the opportunities he had, might be the same someone else needs. Like others in the group, he said learning about addiction and preparing to help others is also helping him stay on track and put one foot in front of the other.

The peer-to-peer center’s efforts are similar to what a recovery coach might do. Director Linda Sarage and peer coordinator Celina Borgos have already been trained in the Connecticut- based Recovery Coach Academy curriculum and led last week’s session.

The RECOVER Project, 68 Federal St., is a peer-to-peer recovery umbrella organization busy in Greenfield for just over a decade.

Sarage said members have more or less always filled this role, helping one another and the people who walk in off the street. There might not be a licensed social worker in the building, but the people who answer the phone or sit in the Federal Street office space on any given day are well-informed about where to begin looking for a rehab bed, an AA or NA meeting that might be a good fit, or similar.

Sarage said growing state interest in the concept is a reflection of the acceptance of the science behind addiction and recovery, and that 12-step programs aren’t the only solution. A faith-based approach might work for some, philosophy for others.

Participants discussed topics like the stigma often associated with suboxone, methadone and other medically assisted recovery, both in the recovery community and beyond.

“For a long time in the recovery community there’s been a thought that there’s one way to recovery, and so Recovery Coach Academy and peer recovery centers are saying ‘yup, those work for some people, and then there’s more and there’s more and there’s more,’” Sarage said. “So the role of the recovery coach is supporting people to find their path to recovery, what works for them, their values, their skills, their strengths, their passions.”

That might include help navigating the intricacies of the treatment web, tips for effective use of group NA or AA meetings or reading recommendations.

The RECOVER Project offered the training, free, with help from a $1,500 mini-grant from the Mass. Department of Health, secured by the Greenfield Health Department and Opioid Education and Awareness Task Force Coordinator Marisa Hebble.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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