All posts by Jennifer Tuerke

Meet Aaron W. – Voices of Hope Peer Recovery Specialist

All of our Peers have a story to share. Although most include a level of despair and struggle, each is unique in pathway of recovery and message of hope. Each story is important and hold lessons we all can learn from as individuals and systems that support change. Aaron is one of our Peer Recovery Specialist leaders. He uses his experience, strength and hope combined with training to provide recovery outreach and support to people in Cecil County, MD. Here is his personal story of change and the moments that led him to seek long term recovery.

Aaron’s active addiction led him to being homeless in Kensington, PA. While homeless, he was receiving methadone treatment for over 2 1/2 years. He had been on methadone before, it was helpful to keep his life as stable as it was. One day at the clinic, he was told that his girlfriend just overdosed and died that morning. His girlfriend was receiving methadone at the clinic, too, but had stopped about 2 weeks earlier. Soon after, she had returned to using heroin. Aaron recalls the morning that she died, “I just couldn’t feel. What I did feel was anger – anger that she died and I was still alive.” He made a decision that he must change. He went to his methadone provider and told them he wanted to come off of the medication. His counselor told him that he could be weaned off the methadone at 2 mg. increments a week. His current dose was 90 mg. – that would be 180 weeks! That was discouraging for Aaron. The counselor told him, “If you were to not show up for your dosing for 3 days, we would only be allowed to start you back at half dose – 45 mg. But I didn’t tell you that.” Aaron felt blessed to have someone who cared about what he wanted and was willing to look the other way to help him come off the medication.

In desperation, he reached out to his mother and begged her to take him in and help him detox off of the methadone. His mom lives in Rising Sun. She came to get him. He bought Xanax off of the street to help him with the withdrawal symptoms. Together, they made a plan for him to return to Pennsylvania to use his insurance to get into treatment. His mother dropped him off at a hospital in Kensington with their agreement that he would get treatment or stay in PA. “All I had was $40 and layers of all the clothes I owned on my body.” The intake nurse at the hospital told him that they could not admit him into detox for prescription drugs. The nurse told him, “If you left and came back with something else in your system, we could take you in. But I didn’t tell you that.” Here was another person going outside the lines to help him on his path to recovery. He took the last of his money and bought PCP and 2 bags of heroin. He went down an alleyway and prepared the drugs. “It was so cold, a day in January, every time I cooked the heroin up in the cooker, it froze before I got a chance to use it. I was so frustrated and desperate. I remember sitting there, taking off all my layers of clothing to get to a vein. Then I noticed a woman walking down the alley past me. She was holding hands with 2 young children. As they walked by, a girl, about 5 years old, looked at me, right into my eyes. In that moment, reflected in her eyes, I saw the piece of shit I really was. The junkie in an alleyway, an absent father to my children, half naked in the cold, the animal I truly was. It rocked my soul.”

After using once more, Aaron returned to the hospital and spent 3 days in a chair, detoxing in a large room with other people seeking treatment. Afterwards, his mother picked him back up. “I just wanted to sleep and take it easy but my mom refused. She placed a 12-step fellowship meeting list in front of me. She told me that I could stay there every day that I went to a meeting. I was willing when she put it that way.” Aaron said he was nervous to attend the meeting by himself, his anxiety was so intense. His mother agreed to go to the first meeting with him. He went to one in Elkton on Saturday night. “When I got there, a lady named Stephanie introduced herself and gave me a hug.” Remembering this, Aaron spoke with tears in his eyes, “She just hugged me. It was a real hug, one that said she understood and it was going to be all right. I have been going ever since.” Aaron recently celebrated 4 years in recovery, which means to him, not taking a drink or drug to get high or to treat the disease of addiction.

Aaron shares his feelings about working with Voices of Hope: “What I give back is so little compared to what I received. For 26 years, I lived in darkness. I prayed that Narcan would not work anymore. I don’t want anyone to feel that. People feel so alone with the fear and guilt, they feel like no one can understand.” For Aaron, his mom and Stephanie were a source of unconditional love, a beacon of hope. Now, he has become a source of hope for others. His personal experience allows him to connect with others when they are at their lowest.

Aaron has been a lead Peer Recovery Specialist on our Hope Street weekly outreach team, committed to Hollingsworth Manor, primarily. He talks with people about staying alive, accessing treatment and recovery supports. He is an advocate for many pathways of recovery, including MAT. He also performs Overdose Survivor Outreach for Voices of Hope in cooperation with the Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center at the Cecil County Health Department. He is actively involved in the recovery community in Cecil County. We are blessed to have him here.

Listen to Aaron’s interview on our YouTube Channel!

Do you need someone to talk to about you or your loved one’s addiction? Want to know the options? Call Voices of Hope at (443) 993-7055 today.

Who Have We Reached in 2018?

Voices of Hope is an organization made up of people in recovery, along with family members and allies who support recovery. We have been working together to advocate and build recovery supports in our community since 2013. This year has been our busiest ever. Your donations of time, talents and treasures have made results that we are proud to report. We hope to inspire community members to continue to support us, or maybe give for the first time.

We have three main initiative where we focus our efforts.

  • Outreach – going into the communities and neighborhoods that are hardest hit by this epidemic.
  • CPRS Academy – providing training to our members so they are best informed to provide help to others, as well as creating a career path for those in recovery who often times face barriers to employment.
  • Fundraising – raising money to overcome barriers to treatment and providing funding for recovery housing to people in early recovery.

Outreach

We began most of our official outreach programs in October, 2018. Our approach is based on harm reduction, reducing overdose deaths and addressing the various other health issues that plague our communities. We are also a connection to recovery for them if they decide to ask for help. Hope Street, our backpack outreach program, provides health resources and builds recovery relationships in our most disadvantaged areas: Hollingsworth Manor, Lakeside Trailer Park, Winding Brook and Downtown Elkton. Our Homeless Outreach provides peer support and engagement at Paris Foundation, the Mary Randall Center and everywhere in-between. Our Overdose Survivor Outreach engages people who survive an overdose at their homes and with their families. Here is our data from October 1 through December 22, 2018:

  • 484 Connections (conversations and engagement)
  • 178 Safe Use Bags given (wound care, clean supplies, resources)
  • 121 Safe Sex Bags given (condoms, dental dams, resources)
  • 102 doses of Narcan given
  • 53 Discarded syringes collected
2018 VoH town hall

103 people attended 6 Town Hall meetings that we held throughout Cecil County. At these Town Halls, we invited local people to talk about their own recovery, the strengths that support recovery and some barriers that we would work together to overcome.

Healing Hearts Overdose Death Grief Support Group formed in March, 2018 and meets every other week. This group is for the families and friends of our neighbors who have lost someone they love to addiction. We are a place to grieve openly, when you want, how you want, with people who understand.

70 people attended Financial Capabilities classes held throughout the year, teaching people new in recovery or anyone interested how to better manage finances.

668 people attended various activities hosted by VoH: our Gratitude Banquet, Adopt-A-Hwy clean ups, Memorial Day cook out, etc. These events help promote the positive effects that recovery has on the entire community. When people recover, so do their families, friends and neighbors.

Certified Peer Recovery Specialist Academy

1st VOH Outreach Volunteer Trainees June, 2018

74 people attended 4 Recovery Volunteer Army Trainings that introduced Cecil County statistics on drug use and overdoses, domestic violence, abuse and neglect. Training was given on principles of trauma-informed care and harm reduction to people interested in helping their neighbors. These trainings are given free of charge. Attendees were invited to sign up to a VoH volunteer outreach team.

Recovery Advocates
CPRS Academy training 2018

282 people were trained in courses that gave CEUs for the Maryland Certified Peer Recovery Specialist Credential. Courses included Recovery Coach Academy, Trauma-Informed Care for Peers, Harm Reduction for Peers, Recovery Messaging and Mental Health First Aid for Adults and Youth. We believe each student is better capable of carrying the message of recovery to those who suffer at any stage of sickness or in a crisis.

Fundraising

$2,508 was given to residents seeking recovery supportive housing in Cecil County as they left treatment, or to continue their housing during periods of difficulty. We also were able to provide transportation to treatment for people who had no other way to get there.

We believe that addiction and recovery is a health issue. By providing our community with the tools and information to stay alive and access treatment, we will lower the number of deaths by overdose. By providing safe use and safe sex equipment with resources, we will prevent infections that are costly to treat and can be barriers to recovery. By keeping people alive and out of jail, we will keep families together and reduce the trauma and cost of providing care for children living without their parents. By providing Narcan to people who use drugs, we are empowering people to save each other, more often.

Mark on Hope Street Outreach

Our volunteers and employees are people who are in recovery or family members of people in recovery. We reflect all pathways of addiction and mental health recovery and are passionate about the people of Cecil County, Maryland. We care and will go above and beyond to help someone seeking recovery. Our problem here is big and it will take big hearts to make the difference.

If addiction has touched your life or someone you love, please consider giving what you can to our mission: Attend a Volunteer Orientation and join a team that works with your schedule. Donate funds that will be used to purchase Narcan and contribute to someone’s safe place in recovery. Reach out to us and be a face and voice of recovery in a video or story of hope. Thank you!


Hope Street Outreach: Giving Back by Reaching Out

Our outreach teams believe in the transformative power of recovery.  Our lives have been forever changed by this power.  Hope Street is our action of gratitude:  reaching out to addicts, offering relationship, information, resources and recovery.  Leading up to Giving Tuesday, Voices of Hope wants you to know how your donation is investing in our community response to the addiction epidemic in Cecil County.  One way is through funding supplies, training and coordination of our Hope Street Outreach.  This team’s focus is building helping relationships in the communities that need it most.  We talk and relate to people as equals.  Our mission is to give hope that recovery is possible for all.  Team members have been trained in harm reduction principles, trauma informed care and local treatment and recovery support organizations.  Many friendships have been made and community trust in Voices of Hope as a helping organization is growing.

Teams of two go out routinely every week in Hollingsworth Manor, Lakeside Trailer Park, Downtown Elkton and Winding Brook.  Teams include people who live and recover in these neighborhoods.

In October, Hope Street made 127 connections in 22 walks.  2 sex workers in Elkton were connected to treatment and recovery supports in our first week.  We offer information on how to get into treatment, 12-step meeting information and crisis hotline numbers.  We also give  the walk-in treatment times for the Health Clinic at the Cecil County Health Department.  We know that giving information and encouraging people who use drugs to seek prevention and treatment will lower infections and Hepatitis C transmission.  People will find recovery.  Families will be saved.

Your funds pay for pamphlet printing, condoms, safe use and wound care supplies, needle collection equipment (we clean them up on the street) and for the purchase of Narcan.  By distributing Naloxone to the people who use drugs and their families, we believe the number of overdose deaths will decrease.

Please support Voices of Hope as your charity of choice this Giving Tuesday.  Your investment makes Cecil a safer place to live and raise our children.  Thank you!

 

Grateful for Recovery!!!

Happy Thanksgiving from Voices of Hope!  We pray that you are well, that your loved ones are safe and you look forward to another good day.  Thanksgiving gives an opportunity to count our blessings and we are grateful for you, our supporters, who believe that recovery is possible.  You invest in the solution.  We are grateful for our volunteers who carry the message that no addict need ever die.  Volunteers, like Tonya, show up, reach out and give the hope that anyone has the power to change their own lives if given information, resources and support.  Our volunteers give time, talent and passion – we know that freedom is possible and we want to share it with families and those who still suffer.  We know that Cecil County can become a place that fosters recovery, making it a better place to live for our neighbors, families and children.   If you, or a family member, need help finding treatment or recovery support, reach out through our Facebook page or call us (443) 993-7055.  We are here for you.

 

Camp Educators Complete Youth Mental Health First Aid Training

Voices of Hope facilitated Youth Mental Health First Aid training for educators at North Bay on Monday, October 15, 2018.  Training and books were supplied through the Maryland AWARE grant that strives to equip people who interact with adolescents with this helpful training.  Mental Health First Aiders are trained to be able to assess a crisis and how how best to help.  They were given suicide and mental health crisis resource information.    Although North Bay has an effective system of addressing and supporting students in crisis while at the camp, this training equipped educators on how to provide mental health first aid in their families and communities.

If you are interested in having Mental Health First Aid course provided to your organization or community in Cecil County, please email us at voicesofhope414@gmail.com

Hope Street Backpack Outreach Begins in Cecil County

Trained volunteers hit the streets in October to make relationships and to offer resources, safe use and safe sex materials throughout Cecil County, Maryland.  Hope Street is the backpack outreach team of Voices of Hope, Inc.  Volunteers are people in recovery, family members and those who support recovery in Cecil County.  Hope Street volunteers have been trained in harm reduction and trauma-informed care.  They are given information and training to connect people with treatment providers and recovery supports.

Teams walk through 3 neighborhoods on a weekly basis, always at the same time.  The SHE Unit is building relationships with sex workers in our County.  The police and sheriff departments are aware of the shifts and the identifiers that indicate Voices of Hope volunteers.

This outreach is an effort to build helping relationships and reduce the harm that comes with chaotic drug use.  By offering safe sex and safe use equipment, Voices of Hope will reduce the number of those acquiring infections and serious, expensive health conditions like Hepatitis C and HIV.  The teams also collect and dispose of discarded needles if any are found along the routes.  Narcan will be distributed with training to anyone interested.

One of the best results of this outreach is building new relationships with people who care about their neighbors.  Many good citizens are in these neighborhoods and want to contribute to the well being of their communities.  Together, we will carry a message of caring, health and help to get to the next step of a recovery journey.

Want to join our teams?  Plan to attend the next Volunteer Recovery Army Training on November 3, 2018 from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm, location to be announced.  Stay tuned to our Facebook page or website for information or sign up to our email list by request email to voicesofhope414@gmail.com.

 

Recovery Month Proclamation 2018 in Cecil County, Maryland

People in recovery, family members and allies attended the Recovery Month Proclamation at the County Administration Building on Tuesday, September 4, 2018.  The County Council gave the Proclamation to Ken Collins, Director of Addiction Services and Mike Massuli, Deputy Director of the Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center and to John Bennett, Chairperson of the Cecil County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council.  People in our recovery community brought signs with messages about what helped them in their recovery, what we need to combat the addiction crisis and issues important to that individual.  Although the group was not allowed to bring their signs into the meeting, they were held up in front of the County Administration building as participants walked in.  John Bennett invited the group to stand and receive the Proclamation with them.  After the Proclamation, a spiffy new commercial about Peer Support was televised.

 

 

5th Annual Overdose Vigil and Awareness Day

Voices of Hope joined forces with Youth Empowerment Source (YES), Maryland Coalition of Families and local churches to host a day of activities for International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, 2018.  A Prayer Breakfast was held at Wesley United Methodist Church to start the day.  Members of the church and the Paris Foundation served a breakfast donated by Chik Fil A.  After breakfast, members of the community offered prayers out loud for the families and loved ones of those lost and for those who still suffer.

After breakfast, a Memorial Wall was constructed outside the old County Courthouse.  Names that had been emailed to YES were placed on the wall.  Others were added by friends and family as the event was carried out.  There were crafts for children, drinks and snacks while people shared about the lives of those lost.  Marc Butler, from Ashley Addiction Treatment, brought donuts to share with the group.  Dr. Alan McCarthy, the County Executive, and Judge Will Davis, stopped in to pay their respects.  Family members and friends braved the rain to express their grief for those whose lives were cut short by overdose.

In the evening, a candlelight vigil was held at the North East Community Park.  Attendees were invited to design a luminary for their loved one and to speak about their life and loss.  Josh, from an Elkton area recovery house, donated his talent and played music throughout the event.  Jim Kamahachi from St. Mary Anne’s Episcopal Church, gave the closing prayer as storms were approaching.  A huge fire on Route 40 kept many from getting to the event on time or at all.  Nonetheless, respectful space and condolences were expressed for those lost.

Thank you to the many Voices of Hope volunteers that made this day possible.  Their service to those who grieve and for those who have passed made this event possible.  Thank you to YES who gave extra attention to this issue that impacts too many of the youth they serve.  We are also grateful for the Christians from many organizations who participated, even when this has not effected them personally.  Thank you for your compassion and active involvement.  You make the new culture of Cecil County.

Learning to Represent at “Recovery is the Message” Training

People in recovery and family members attended the Faces and Voices of Recovery Messaging Training on August 30, 2018 at the Susquehanna Workforce Center in Elkton, MD.  Over 30 people were in attendance to learn how to carry the message that recovery works!  Whether in private settings or with the media, the group practiced how to hone their recovery story into one voice with a message that we do recover.

Presenters were Chelsea Duiett from Bowling Green Brandywine and Brandon Welsch, Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs at the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration.  Sponsors were Voices of Hope and the University of Maryland Training Center.  Training space was donated by the Susquehanna Workforce Center.

Participants also earned 6 CEUs for the Certified Peer Recovery Specialist credential in Maryland.

Thank you to all who attended, go carry the message!!!

Recovery Messaging Training