Peer-to-Peer Program Promotes Recovery (Part 2)
An Emphasis on Strengths
With the Recovery Community Services Program, CSAT is helping communities create
opportunities for people in recovery to help others. The Program grew out of an earlier
CSAT effort called the Recovery Community Support Program, which began in 1998.
"That was CSAT's first initiative to reach out directly to people in recovery
and their families, ask what their needs were, and begin to organize the recovery community,"
said Ms. Nugent. "One of the things voiced continually was the need for ongoing
support for recovery." In response, the Program's name changed, and its emphasis
shifted from mobilizing recovery communities and encouraging their participation in
public dialogue about alcohol and drug use to actually providing recovery support services.
Grantees are now at various stages of assessing their specific local needs and developing
programs to meet those needs. Some grantees have established peer-led recovery support
groups or recovery mentorship programs. Others have focused on education, offering
classes or coaching in recovery-related topics and basic life skills such as parenting
and job-hunting. Some projects provide concrete assistance to participants looking
for help with housing, employment, parenting, and other everyday tasks, with peers
offering assistance with job or school applications, child care, and transportation
to support-group meetings. Grantees also provide alcohol- and drug-free social and
recreational activities. Some projects offer peer-to-peer services for relatives and
friends of people in recovery.
Projects also aim to encourage entire communities to promote recovery. If community
norms support being clean and sober, Ms. Nugent explained, people can maintain their
recovery with less difficulty.
And no matter what the activity is, the focus is on wellness rather than illness.
"These days the recovery field is moving toward a strengths-based approach,"
said Ms. Nugent. "Instead of focusing on deficits, we're really focusing on what
people can bring to the table as gifts. It shifts the lens away from looking at problems
to looking for solutions."
Focusing on strengths is also the approach of the Recovery Community Services Program's
Technical Assistance Project, housed at Health Systems Research, Inc., in Washington,
"The grassroots leaders we're working with have amazing strengths," said
Technical Assistance Manager Tom Hill, M.S.W., a senior policy associate at Health
Systems Research. "By taking a strengths-based approach, we can not only meet
them where they're at, but also build upon the strengths they already have."
In addition to providing help to grantees, the Technical Assistance Project is summarizing
what grantees have learned in a forthcoming series of publications.
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A Closer Look
Grantees are creating a wide range of projects to harness the energy and creativity
of recovery communities in their areas.
In Colorado Springs, CO, for example, an American Indian organization called White
Bison, Inc., has drawn on both Alcoholics Anonymous and Native traditions to create
a program called the "Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps." Led by specially trained
peers called "firestarters," participants come together in talking circles
to support each other in what White Bison calls "wellbriety." There are now
about 400 talking circles, more than 700 firestarters, and specialized programs for
men, women, boys, girls, friends and family, children of alcoholics, and even prisoners.
This comprehensive approach is key to the project's success, said founder and President
Don L. Coyhis, a member of the Mohican tribe. "Say you have a forest of sick trees,"
he explained. "If you take one of those trees out of the forest, treat it at a
nursery until it gets well, and then take it back to the sick forest, what will happen?
It will get sick again. If you want to keep the tree healthy, you have to put it back
in a circle of trees that are healing."
In Willimantic, CT, a grantee called the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery
(CCAR) has established the Windham Recovery Community Center. Located in a former crack
house in a town once notorious for its heroin use, the center is part of the community's
effort to rehabilitate itself. "We're turning Willimantic from 'heroin town'
to 'recovery town,' " said CCAR Executive Director Phillip Valentine. "The
center's goal is to put a face on recovery and provide a recovery-oriented anchor in
the very heart of the community."
Staffed by a peer services coordinator who is herself in recovery, the center offers
everything from recovery support groups to a database of treatment options, from computer
access to a collection of resources that includes "everything CSAT has ever written."
There's also a support group for family members of people in recovery. The center's
latest project is to map "recovery assets" in a database that will allow
the center to match people who have specific skills with people who want to learn them.
"People in recovery generally have a deep gratitude for the second or third
or last chance they've been given," said Mr. Valentine. "That's why they
want to help people coming up behind them in the process of recovery. What's interesting
about 'recovery capital' is that the more you give it away, the more it grows."
In Nashville, the Alcohol and Drug Council of Middle Tennessee used its grant to
launch the Nashville Area Recovery Alliance. The alliance achieves its goal of developing
the local recovery community's skills through an ongoing series of "recovery learning
circles." These free educational opportunities allow people in recovery to share
their knowledge with their peers on such topics as legal issues, relaxation, resume
writing, and spirituality and religion. There's even a recovery-related book club.
"We exist to help recovering people live better lives by sharing support and
skills," explained Rob Simbeck, who serves on the alliance's peer council and
facilitates a writing and recovery learning circle. "We form communities that
make recovery more fun and teach skills that people desperately need."
The learning circles are not only peer-led but peer-driven. The alliance solicits
ideas for possible learning circles from its members, treatment centers, halfway houses,
prisons, and elsewhere. Then the group checks a list of its members' strengths to find
the best person to facilitate a circle. Most learning circles last an evening or two,
although some are ongoing.
"Learning circles are presented by people in or supportive of recovery,"
explained Mr. Simbeck. "These are people who understand the issues firsthand."
For more information about SAMHSA's Recovery Community Services Program, visit SAMHSA's
Web site at http://rcsp.samhsa.gov.
Part 1: Peer-to-Peer Program Promotes Recovery
Administrator: The Promise of Recovery »
Examples of Peer Support Services »
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