Katie O’Leary, North Suffolk Mental Health Association’s (NSMHA) Director of Recovery Support, knows the crucial role peers and recovery coaches play in helping others struggling with substance abuse stay on a path of sobriety.
As NSMHA’s Project Director for the “PEERRS” (Peers Expanding Education & Recovery Resources) program and a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach, O’Leary sees the importance of having trained coaches and peers that bring their own experiences with substance abuse to the table.
“Recovery Coaches really help people navigate the complex systems of care in the recovery world and really advocate for people on their journey to recovery,” said O’Leary. “They build rapport and trust with the people that they’re working with and help them with all aspects of recovery. These coaches really hold their hands and help them walk through some of the barriers that otherwise would impede them as they seek a more healthy life.”
Last week, NSMHA received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to boost recovery support services in East Boston and surrounding communities.
The SAMHSA’s Building Communities of Recovery (BCOR) grant program will give NSMHA $200,000 per year for three years to establish and operate a 24/7 Recovery Support hotline to provide services to individuals in recovery or seeking to establish a recovery pathway. It will also allow NSMHA to develop a training center at its newly opened recovery support center in Eastie, Recovery on the Harbor, for Recovery Coaches, addictions and recovery professionals and community members. These efforts are also intended to expand availability of services to the Latinx community through bilingual providers, Spanish-language training and marketing.
“NSMHA has done a really outstanding job providing the infrastructure support and opportunity for people in recovery,” said O’Leary. “But the question then became what are the next steps, and how do we grow. The next steps for us were addressing what we thought the community needs. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding substance abuse disorders so what this grant does is helps us go further into the neighborhood and allows us the ability not only to educate the community on substance abuse disorder but also the resources to train the community. It will allow us to really start to bridge that gap and truly build a community-wide recovery oriented system of care. I hope through this grant we can provide an open forum and space for knowledge and enhance the community’s awareness of what recovery is and what it looks like and how it differs from active addiction while at the same time help those in active addiction get to a place of sustained recovery.”
There are currently 16 Recovery Coaches working at Eastie’s Recovery on the Harbor that O’Leary says have their own lived experience with substance use disorder.
“They are there to just make people feel comfortable with some of the stuff that they’ve experienced,” said O’Leary,. “It’s a, “If I can do it, you can do it” type of culture that provides people in recovery with that hope and optimism that getting sober is possible.”
O’Leary said she’s really excited about the 24-hour hotline for recovery support component of the grant.
“For the next three years we will have a recovery hotline that is manned 24/7 by the trained recovery coaches,” she said. “They will not only be able to connect people to programming resources but also help loved ones that just have questions about addiction and recovery. There’s a lot of depth and knowledge within our team and all of us have different strengths that we bring to the table so we’re able to pull from each other and kind of collaborate and problem solve and come up with really creative ideas of what next steps should be for people.”
Founded in 1959, NSMHA has a long history of serving the communities of Eastie, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop. It also operates an outpatient behavioral health clinic in Downtown Boston and STEPRox Recovery Support Center, a neighborhood institution in Roxbury.
“We saw, through STEPRox and other programs, the significant impact that peer support has in helping people with addiction and mental health challenges achieve and maintain their recovery,” said NSMHA CEO Jackie K. Moore. “NSMHA committed to meaningfully integrate people with lived experience into our workforce more than a decade ago. Recovery coaches bring the lived experience of recovery, combined with training and supervision, to assist others in initiating and maintaining recovery, helping enhance the quality of personal and family life in long-term recovery. We are so pleased that SAMHSA has chosen to invest in our work.”