September Volunteer Spotlight: Recovery Month Edition

Sep 30, 2016

September is National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate recovery and share stories about how substance use treatment and mental health services have helped people live healthy and rewarding lives. 

This month we were honored to connect with an Employment Access Center (EAC) Clothing Closet volunteer who also identifies as being in recovery. Read how recovery has impacted Dikeeshea’s attitude towards volunteerism, her interactions with others, and her career aspirations.

• • •

Name: Dikeeshea Witherspoon

Position: I volunteer in the clothing closet at the Employment Access Center.

Could you tell me a little about your duties in the clothing closet?
My duties in the clothing closet are going through any clothing that people donate to Central City Concern, [deciding] what I think should be put in the clothing closet and then organizing by size and style. I also help when people come in and need an outfit put together for an interview; they’re looking for a certain size of pants, or a shirt, or if they just need some clothes. It’s fun because me being the age that I am (millennial) I can kind of hit towards the hipper stuff to wear.

What first drew you to Central City Concern?
I was working but I wanted to give back to the community that I took from. Using drugs, stealing, like all of the crazy stuff that comes along with using drugs and drinking and being homeless, I wanted to give back. So I started volunteering at the St. Francis Church in Eugene after two people in recovery told me about it. Boy, was it an experience! To be able to feed the community no matter what walks of life they went through; I was eager to be a part of something like that. I wanted to stay volunteering and after I came to Portland, I wanted to keep being a part of a group. That’s what really pushed me into Central City Concern.

Since coming here do you feel like you’ve become a part of the bigger group?
Oh yes! Especially since I got a nametag and my picture is on it and it says “volunteer” on the bottom. I feel like I’m part of the community just because I am a volunteer. I can walk into the EAC and feel absolutely comfortable. Yeah, it’s homey. I’m there and it’s good for me.

How would you say your recovery has informed your volunteerism and vice versa?
I go to NA meetings and I have a service position, but for me that’s not enough. Being able to volunteer for a community that is the same as what I’m going through or what I’ve been through—like the community of being homeless, the community of looking for a job and trying to survive outside—I feel like it’s helped my recovery tremendously. If I didn’t volunteer, I’m not sure my recovery would’ve blossomed as much as it has. It holds me accountable. Like, if I don’t volunteer am I giving back? I’m not.

I started out doing drugs and drinking and not thinking about who I was hurting, about the people I was hurting outside of myself. You know, like my family, like all the crimes I committed while being under the influence, not worrying about taxpayers money, not worrying about anything. I just didn’t care. But now that I’m clean and sober I see all of the people that I hurt, how much I hurt myself, how just, disgusting I felt inside. And how pure and clean and open I feel now that I’m clean and sober and I’ve been able to help with volunteering and even working. It’s very full circle.

Have you had any experiences in the clothing closet that have stuck with you or just made your day?
So one day there was this gentleman who was really early on in his recovery. He came into the clothing closet and he didn’t have any teeth in and he was really embarrassed. He was talking like his mouth was almost closed and he had his hand over his mouth and I was thinking “oh my gosh, why is he doing that,” you know? And then he said, “Oh, I’m sorry I’m talking muffled, I just don’t have my teeth in. I haven’t got them yet.” And so for somebody to come in and try to find clothes because he has a job interview and he doesn’t even have his teeth yet, that touched my heart. He’s still looking for work and he’s going to go into this interview teeth in or not! I don’t know if I didn’t have teeth in, or if I couldn’t take a shower, or if I couldn’t do my hair or put on makeup, I don’t know if I would have gone to the clothing closet and attempted to get some clothes for an interview or even had an interview.

And I actually saw him just yesterday and he was grinning from ear to ear. He’s been working, and he was just smiling, and I thought “oh my god, that is the same guy that I saw months ago but with all of his teeth now.” They were just bright and shiny. And, every time I see him I think about that because I see him in the community and yeah, it touched me. It gave me hope in people.

Any thoughts or parting words you’d like share?
I would say that Central City Concern has really helped me. It opened up my eyes to see the community of where I came from to the community of where I want to be. It’s opened my eyes to get back into school. This will be the first time, my going to college. It’s helped me to bring it all together to know what I want to do with my life. Being able to talk to people about their job or how they got there and me wanting what they have. I didn’t used to think that way but seeing how many people have walked the same life that I’ve walked and now look at them; so successful. That’s my parting words.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Eric Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at eric.reynolds@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



Recovery News and Recovery Month at CCC

Oct 07, 2015

Central City Concern (CCC) began in 1979 as a recovery organization and we’d like to update you on some recent enhancements and expanded capacity in our recovery programs. As you may already know, we have an array of programs and we believe in tailoring programs to meet the needs of individuals. Increasingly, these three themes are driving our thinking:

Peers are important

In Our Housing and Through the Recovery Mentor Program
The value of peers is well documented when it comes to recovery and when we formed the Recovery Mentor Program in 1999, we quickly saw the enormous difference that peers could make.

Multnomah County has recently echoed our belief in this kind of programming by helping us expand the Recovery Mentor Program, adding three staff positions and 43 additional apartments for participants, nearly doubling the number of clients we can serve. (The full Mentor team is pictured here.)

Central City Concern is also expanding the use of peers for recovery services throughout the agency, often embedding such staff positions in our housing. We have added eight peer support positions in four buildings and have increased training of our front desk staff who are in frequent contact with the people we serve.

Domestic Violence/Recovery Project
Multnomah County is also supporting a domestic violence/recovery mentor project to coordinate care for women who are affected by both domestic violence and substance use disorders.

Estimates are that between 50-90% of women who have substance use disorders have experienced domestic violence. By using peers, we can present strong role models for women to inspire hope that change is possible through this integrated approach to treatment. Peer mentors will provide community outreach and engagement at domestic violence shelters and at alcohol and drug treatment programs. There will also be opportunities for cross-training and consultation between staff from programs.

We recently discussed this new program with leaders from the State of Oregon and Multnomah County at a Get to Know the Real Central City Concern event. You can watch the full panel discussion here. Get to Know the Real Central City Concern is a series of exclusive events offered throughout the year to community members who are making significant investments in Central City Concern’s work. 

Choice can drive success

Opiate epidemic calls for urgent action
Central City Concern offers choices in housing, like our Community Engagement Program, with strong outcomes. We are moving more toward recovery choice, striving to bring the right resources and approaches to every individual.

In recent years, the treatment field has had to step up to respond to the epidemic of opiate dependence and overdose deaths. While CCC continues to strongly support and value abstinence based recovery, we also have medication assisted alternate opioid treatment and overdose prevention initiatives in place throughout the agency. This has been a bold step for Central City Concern and our staff members are bringing an extraordinary level of openness and compassion to these new practices.

Culture Counts

The Latino Community
In 2005, Central City Concern began offering recovery services for Latino adults and teens, filling a dire need in the community. Spanish-speaking staff members work with clients from an appropriate culturally-specific vantage point. Puentes staff members also serve mental health needs and reach approximately 170 people annually. With Multnomah County support, the program will soon add two staff positions and will expand by nearly 30%, with intentions of reaching 240 people annually. 

The African American Community
African Americans are over represented in the homeless population and for many years, Central City Concern has provided both mental health and addiction services to African Americans. This year, these programs will operate in an integrated fashion with oversight from a Director of African-American Services. This collective set of services is under the program name of The Imani Center. “Imani,” the seventh principle of Kwanzaa, means "faith" in Swahili.  Central City Concern chose this name as a positive expression of faith and hope. You’ll hear more about this new program in the coming year.

• • •

CCC Celebrates National Recovery Month

Thank you to everyone for being a part of Recovery Month at Central City Concern. The month was packed with ways we recognized that the stories of those in recovery are visible, vocal, and valuable. Some Recovery Month highlights include:

CCC Participates in Hands Across the Bridge
On September 7, many people from the CCC community joined thousands of others at Hands Across the Bridge to celebrate the strength and unity of recovery. Central City Concern was proud to be an event sponsor.

Recovery Mentor Program 15th Anniversary
More than 200 alumni of the Recovery Mentor Program gathered at the Ambridge Event Center to celebrate its 15th Anniversary! 

CCC executive director Ed Blackburn gave the audience some historical perspective of the program. Marissa Madrigal, Multnomah County’s Chief Operating Officer, recounted the ways in which the county has partnered and supported the program because it is simply a program that has strong outcomes and save lives. She also spoke about the recent exciting growth of the program, which includes three new recovery mentor staff positions and 43 new units of available housing. She ended her remarks by reminding the alumni that their lives are visible, vocal, and valuable.

Two CCC programs were recognized for the integral support they provide new mentees. The Community Volunteer Corps, represented by Rachel Hatcher and Paul Flynt, and the CCC Recovery Center, represented by Melissa Bishop, were given awards.

The night was capped off with Recovery Mentors Doug Bishop, Torrence Williams, Lynda Williams, and David Fitzgerald each receiving recognition for their immense dedication to the Recovery Mentor Program and the individuals who come through in need of guidance and hope. A program alum introduced each Mentor, speaking to how each Mentor influenced (and continues to influence) their lives.

Recovery Month Photo Project
At the Recovery Mentor Anniversary party, attendees took photos holding up a board that completed the sentence, “Recovery has allowed me to…” and the resulting photos have been such an encouragement and inspiration to share. Resulting photos were organized into panels, which were shared on our social media throughout Recovery Month. You can see all the panels from the series by visiting the "Recovery Has Allowed Me to..." album on Facebook.

We also compiled all the photos into the poster at right. Click on the image for a higher-resolution version.

Panel Discussion on Women, Addiction, and Homelessness
As noted above, CCC hosted a panel discussion between local experts to explore the unique challenges women working to treat and manage their addiction face, especially when their addiction is compounded by domestic violence, poverty, and homelessness.

Telling a Colleague’s Recovery Story
We had the privilege and pleasure of sharing the recovery journey of CCC’s own Leonard Brightmon, whose outlook and perseverance is an inspiration to many in the community. You can earlier, you can read it at: .

Shining the Spotlight on a Volunteer in Recovery
Jennifer Fresh volunteers as an Old Town Clinic Concierge. We also had a chance to feature Jennifer Fresh, an Old Town Clinic Concierge volunteer, on our blog's Monthly Volunteer Spotlight. She spoke about what makes the path of recovery so compatible with volunteerism and how her life has changed since finding sobriety. 

• • •

On behalf of the estimated 23 million+ people in recovery in our country and the thousands who are in Central City Concern’s daily care, thank you for your interest in our work!

 




Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: Recovery Month Edition

Sep 23, 2015

September is National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate recovery and share stories about how substance use treatment and mental health services have helped people live healthy and rewarding lives.

So for this month’s Volunteer Spotlight, we are privileged to introduce you to Jennifer, a volunteer at Old Town Clinic who also identifies as someone living in recovery. We sat down with Jennifer to find out what makes the path of recovery so compatible with volunteerism, how her life has changed since finding sobriety, and what her volunteer experience at the clinic has been like so far.

• • •

Name: Jennifer Fresh

Position: Old Town Clinic Concierge

What are your volunteer duties?
I do whatever I can to make whoever is at the clinic more comfortable. In my experience, people at the clinic are typically not feeling well. A lot of patients probably have their own negative experiences with the medical system in the past. It can be a hard experience for a lot of people. I try to help put people at ease.

Sometimes that means helping people who have a hard time getting up and down the stairs. Sometimes I help them find their appointments. A lot of the times it’s just listening.

What drew you to Central City Concern?
I got sober at the end of 2007. For me and for a lot of people, service is a part of staying sober. I graduated nursing school recently and I feel that as a nurse with a little bit of sobriety, I can offer people the ear that they need or maybe just a little bit of hope.

I didn’t use any CCC services on my way to getting sober, but there were many years I didn’t get any health care or dental care so it’s nice to be on the other side. Some people I’ve sponsored have been through Hooper Detox Center. Some of the meetings I go to have people who have gone through Letty Owings Center. A lot of people I know have used other services here, too. I know that CCC has done great things for people.

I feel grateful and lucky to be able to put my hand out now.

How does volunteering inform your recovery? How does recovery inform your volunteerism?
One of the things that I learned when I first got sober is that when you’re in active addiction, everything turns inside yourself. Your focus is very small. It’s about me, my needs, my wants. And you have zero energy for what’s going on around you.

Drug use was a coping mechanism for me. So in the very beginning of my sobriety, when I wasn’t able to use that coping mechanism, there were a lot of days when I felt jump-out-of-your-skin uncomfortable.

When I got sober, I was taught to turn my focus outward. I had a wonderful sponsor who taught me that if I ever felt uncomfortable or terrible that I should just go say hi to somebody and see how I could help them.

My addict brain thought “how do I have time for [service]?” But each time, I realized that reaching out my hand makes me feel better while helping someone else. That’s what I got to learn and that’s what I get to re-learn every time I come to volunteer at the Old Town Clinic.

Fear kept me inside myself. It’s wonderful to reach out my hand now that I have something to share.

What did you expect when you first started volunteering?
Well, I can tell you what I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to be able to create trusting relationships with people. Honestly, I’m only there a few hours a week, but I do run into a lot of the same people. I feel like the interaction has gotten deeper and I think I’ve been able to gain some people’s trust which is so important with this population.

I feel like a lot of our clients are extremely vulnerable and they just need to be advocated for. I see a lot of people who are incredibly strong people who just have very tough circumstances. Inherently in that there’s hope. If we can meet people where they’re at, that’s where we’re going to make a difference. There’s no point being in denial about things and shaking our fingers because that absolutely helps nobody.

I just feel like all I can do is be that smiling face and reach out my hand.

Has anything surprised you?
It surprises me all the time how there’s still hope.

Even though I’ve gotten sober myself and have a nursing background, the types of challenges that CCC clients have to navigate and get through everyday still surprises me. It’s hard enough to have a chronic issue like diabetes or mental illness; those are, in themselves, very hard to manage. And when you combine that with homelessness, there are so many challenges.

You mentioned that you recently graduated from nursing school. Did recovery play a part in that pursuit?
I got clean when I was 33. I had no hopes or aspirations before that. I’d been using for most of my adult life and hadn’t done anything really significant.

When I got clean and sober, I had a little time to get my head straight and I felt like I had a clean slate. I got a little job, which kept me busy. Then I got a better job, and another. Little by little, my self-esteem and confidence started growing the more useful and accomplished I felt. I want to be of service to people. I want to help people, and use my experience. And I thought nursing would be a good way to do all that.

What would you tell someone who is hesitant about volunteering?
Volunteering is a small investment. It’s more than nothing. It’s something. It’s so cliché, but you literally get so much more than you put in. You get the feeling of usefulness which is better than anything.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering with Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Eric Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Coordinator, at eric.reynolds@ccconcern.org.




“Life is beautiful on this side“: A Recovery Month Story

Sep 18, 2015

National Recovery Month is a time set aside to share stories of how recovery changes lives. Mothers and fathers repair relationships with their children. Individuals find stability and are able to stay employed. People begin to believe in themselves and work toward achieving their potential.

Central City Concern is a place filled with such stories. We are an organization in which two out of five employees self-identify as being in recovery. Many of our counselors, case managers, care providers, and even administrative staff are on that same journey many of our clients and patients are also on. At CCC, the words “I understand” come from people who have been there – whether “there” means active addiction, homelessness, or times of despair and hopelessness.

We sat down with a CCC employee who was gracious enough to share his story to find out how recovery has affected his life and find out why his latest vacation was so much more than a time to get away.

• • •

On June 12, 2015, Leonard Brightmon found himself in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was thousands of miles from home, but light years beyond where his life was headed just ten years ago.

Home for Leonard has always been Portland, Ore. Born in the City of Roses and raised by a single mother, Leonard was an affable kid who, despite severe asthma, loved to play basketball. On the streets, he played alongside Portland basketball legends, some of whom made their way to the NBA.

“I wanted to become a pro, too. Be able to buy my mom a house and all that,” Leonard says. “But as we know, my life took me to other places.”

As a young adult, Leonard began to use cocaine recreationally. Continued use quickly revealed itself as an active addiction. Fueled by a childhood aversion to needles, Leonard initially swore to himself that he’d never use intravenous drugs. But as his life spiraled out of control, cocaine use escalated into heroin use and dependence.

“I made that promise to myself. But yet, there went I.”

Leonard’s life became unmanageable as quickly as heroin had become his preferred drug. Even after the birth of his daughter, Leonard continued to use.

“We were going through a court process to have my daughter adopted out. I couldn’t even show up in court and advocate for her,” Leonard says.

“When you have a heroin addiction, there’s no choice: either you’re going to be sick or you’re going to get up and get the money or whatever it takes to get the drug,” explains Leonard. “My life was a mess.”

Leonard eventually became tired: of the endless pursuit for his next high, of feeling aimless, of missing out on his daughter’s life.

He moved away from Portland for the first time, hoping a change of scenery would help. It didn’t. Leonard managed to stay away from cocaine and heroin for three years, but filled that time with a dependence on alcohol.

Leonard moved back home and decided to give Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings a try. There he met people who, while living every day managing their addiction, were successful at getting up. At going to work. At raising families. He “heard other people’s truths. I was touched by their honesty.”

“I would hear them say things about their struggles and their successes,” Leonard continues. “And I’d say to myself, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be like that.’”

Through NA meetings, Leonard started forming relationships with men who were living the way he admired. He realized that he didn’t have the skills or knowledge to emulate the habits that kept his new role models clean and sober, so he learned from them. Leonard even took parenting classes, trusting that his newfound recovery would someday lead to a reunion with his daughter.

“Once I made those positive connections, that’s when my life started changing.”

The last time Leonard ever used a controlled substance was June 12, 2009. Since then, he has walked the path of recovery. He found a support network of others in recovery. He’s worked his way up to become a trusted lead community building assistant at Central City Concern, responsible for the upkeep and livability of several housing properties. He became a homeowner. He and his daughter reunited.

When asked what his recovery means to him, Leonard, who is almost always smiling, turns serious. He stares into the distance and takes an extended pause, as if he’s mentally retracing the path that his life has led him down until today.

He takes a deep breath. He exhales.

“Recovery is something that’s given me my life back.” Each word that leaves Leonard's lips is steeped in intention and earnest. “It’s helped me to be open to the fact that I’m an addict and that this fight is for the rest of my life. And I accept that. Recovery has given my daughter a father, my mom a son.”

Leonard stops to carefully choose his next words. His trademark smile returns to his face, somehow more radiant than before.

“Life is beautiful on this side.”

That beautiful path of recovery is what led Leonard to be in Rio de Janeiro on June 12, 2015. He made the trip to attend the 36th World Convention of Narcotics Anonymous.

There, he met people “that looked like me, people that didn’t look like me. People that talked like me, people that didn’t talk like me. But everyone was there for the same reasons.”

At the convention, Leonard heard “powerful stories that brought tears to my eyes. To hear about how people have become successful – not in the sense of money and all that – but more like relationships and family and values, gave me joy. It energized me.”

Now just beyond six years clean, Leonard understands what it takes. He’s built the tools and skills necessary to start and end each day clean and sober, and to start over again the next day. Leonard knows that without the connections he made through NA, his life would likely have turned out very differently. He hopes now to be that vital connection to others.

“I like to share what I’ve gotten out of recovery,” Leonard says. “I want to help other suffering addicts.  I want to reach out to them the way I was helped. I understand what they’re going through.”