"My battle with addiction and ADHD"

Jul 25, 2017

Babs, a patient of Central City Concern's Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), approached us earlier this year with a story to tell. Her story to tell.  And with the help of Dr. Brent Beenders, a former OHSU psychiatry resident at OTRC, she wrote it out. We're grateful that Babs is a part of our CCC community and honored that she asked us to help share her journey.

• • •

My name is Babs. This is my story about battling addiction.

I've been an addict of methamphetamines and heroin for many years. I’ve experienced numerous periods of sobriety and relapse. NA meetings, SMART Recovery meetings, and various types of therapy provided me some, but not sustained, relief.

To fully appreciate my story we need to begin with my birth. I was born in 1960. I had various injuries during my birth. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and my hand was pressed into my skull causing a compressed skull fracture. I am convinced that I was trying to get the cord from around my neck, thus causing my brain injury.

Not that this was enough, but my mother was addicted to alcohol, heroin, and barbiturates before and during her pregnancy with me. My mother’s attempted suicide while I was in the womb also may have been significant in my early development. I had seizures starting from birth. This combination of traumatic brain injury, seizures, and being born addicted to heroin and barbiturates set me up for a lifetime of frustration, fits of anger, anxiety, depression, cognitive difficulties, and severe attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Eventually I developed addictions to substances.

I had severe ADHD from a very young age which caused me difficulty in school; I was unable to sit still and could not concentrate on my work or comprehend what was taught. My symptoms were severe enough that I had to repeat the second grade; this was disruptive in that I lost my first group of friends. Finally, I was treated for my ADHD. This improved my hyperactivity, attention, and ability to focus. Despite learning disabilities, finally I was able to progress through several grades. Unfortunately, my doctors at the time thought that ADHD would resolve with puberty, so my medication was discontinued at age 12. I was able to struggle only through the first half of my sophomore year of high school after which I dropped out.

Three months after discontinuing my ADHD medicine was my first experience with street drugs. With the exception of a few brief periods of sobriety, I used illegal drugs daily for many years. I primarily used methamphetamine, but I also used heroin. My brain and body did not seem to know the difference between these different drugs. Without my ADHD medications, I found it near-impossible to use basic survival or coping tools. What the drugs did for me was provide brief relief from the chaos I was experiencing inside.

From the beginning of these years of drug use, I experienced numerous, deep physical and emotional traumas. The resulting PTSD further deepened my addictions and resulted in further personal turmoil. While there were many reasons for my turn to drugs, one important reason that I’ve come to realize is my untreated ADHD. With untreated ADHD, impulsivity ran rampant. ADHD, coupled with a naïve young adolescent brain, contributed to my drug use and other choices that resulted in years of intense victimization and abuse.

The key to breaking free from this cycle of drug abuse and trauma was getting adequate treatment for my ADHD. Given years of amphetamine abuse and sporadic use, finding a provider that would treat this disorder adequately was difficult—almost impossible—despite such an extensive record of my historical diagnosis and past treatment. I tried various treatment strategies recommended by various doctors over the years to address mood and anxiety, which were decidedly dysregulated. These included various antidepressants and antipsychotic medications; this treatment left me with even more severe depression and prone to fits of anger.

Though I had been a patient of Central City Concern’s Old Town Recovery Center years ago, I was getting increasingly desperate for help with my ADHD and how chaotic it made my life, so I decided to reestablish myself as a patient. Working with a psychiatric doctor, we found a medication that could be of immense help and would balance the chemicals in my brain, helping me focus, stay calm, regulate my emotions, and regain control of my life. But there was a big catch: I needed to show that I could be alcohol and drug free in order be given a prescription.

The doctor at Old Town Recovery Center—who, thankfully, understood how brain injuries, trauma, and addiction all affect each other—told me that if I could get alcohol and drug free, we could get started on medication. Ironically, without the right medication, sobriety sounded impossible. And given my current condition and my history of substance use, I was terrified that this was just turning out to be another dead end.

But something special happened: my doctor told me that she believed in me and my ability to get and stay in recovery. She saw that I needed it and that I wanted to regain control of my life. She not only saw the strength inside me, but the supports I could get outside myself.

During the time that I had to show I could get into and stay in recovery, I leaned heavily on the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room program, where a group of peers—each managing their own addiction and mental illness each day—helped me stay on the path of recovery. I learned how to sit in my discomfort and doubts, to embrace them.

Finally, in June 2015, we started the medication. It immediately calmed my thoughts and motor behavior. This allowed me to relearn how to focus on tasks, it provided me with motivation to accomplish tasks, and it allowed for me to sleep more regularly and soundly.

Most importantly it has allowed for me to remain in recovery. For so many years I was utilizing amphetamines and other drugs to try to help regulate my emotions, soothe my anxiety, and even allow me to sleep. With adequate treatment and continued recovery, I feel like I have now been able to finally “grow up.”

Even my interests have shifted. I’ve been on the board of a community health center and was able to help initiate a needle depository program for the City of Portland; among the many benefits of this, important to me is maintaining a clean public environment. I was also able to get some health issues addressed. I needed surgery on my neck and no surgeon was willing to operate on me because of my addictions. After my surgery, the sensations, strength, and dexterity in my hands all improved. I have been able to complete classes to become a certified peer support specialist. Now I can help others who are struggling with similar issues.

Recovery is a unique process for each individual, and I could not hope to elaborate on every step along the way. Here, I hope to have provided a sufficient overview to understand my recovery and the importance of treatment for ADHD.

Acknowledgments: In order to accomplish writing this article I utilized the help of Brent Beenders, MD, a psychiatry resident to help focus my thoughts and polish my prose. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me in my recovery.

I dedicate this to all the addicts out there who are still struggling.



"A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love."

Jun 23, 2017

By all accounts, the Imani Center mahafali graduation was a celebratory, joyous affair, but there were pockets of immense beauty and reflection to be found, as well. One of the day's more poignant moments came when Malcolm, an Imani Center graduate, shared a poem he had originally written for his cousin and his son that he felt was appropriate for the day. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by the poem, which served to remind his fellow graduates of their worth, their path, and their promise,  We're grateful to Malcolm that he gave us permission to share his poem here.

• • •

A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love.

You my brother,

 are strong beyond your own knowing.

Even when you lay here,

heaving,

broken,

hurting.

You are strong.

Listen to me.

Your strength lies not in your right

or left hand.

Not in your thighs or back

or feet.

But in a place beyond you,

not to be touched,

or doubted,

only held here

when you need.

You will be unbreakable stone.

You will be the heat that burns the dross and waste.

You will be the solid earth on which they stand.

You will be the vine that pulls down the walls.

But for now, be like water. Be easy, flow over and around these obstacles. Seek your own level.

You, my brother cannot be conquered or defeated.

You will push on and over and past, like water.

You will overcome.

The truth is, you are a King among men.

But you have hidden yourself in the mundane, in the badlands.

You walk the badlands among shadows and bad men.

You do not belong chasing these shadows but you love it here.

And here you gleam.

The shadows are attracted to your shine.

You, are no mundane.

The water in you calls for release

It rushes back and forth in your veins.

The clash of tides is in you.

In your ears and toes and fingers it surges and thunders.

This dance you do-this up and down

This back and forth.

Aren’t you tired?

Isn’t this burden heavy?

Don’t you want to rise?

And join your people?

Don’t you want to rise?

It is all there for you. Yours to claim.

All of it.

You only have to release this weight.

Let go,

Let it go.

Let it go, ascend.

Malcolm Shabazz Hoover
Portland, 2017



An Imani Center Graduation: A Victory Lap for Transformation

Jun 22, 2017

Linda Hudson, Director of African American ServicesA beautiful day in Peninsula ParkMalcolm, one of 10 graduates, shared a moving poem to encourage his fellow graduates.Larry Turner, a respected voice in the local African American recovery community.Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser sang a a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

On Wednesday, June 7, CCC's Imani Center program held its first-ever mahafili—Swahili for "graduation"—for ten clients who had completed the program. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

Isn’t this burden heavy?
Don’t you want to rise?
And join your people?
Don’t you want to rise?
It is all there for you. Yours to claim.
 
-Excerpt from "A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love." by Malcolm Shabazz Hoover, Imani Center graduate

Wednesday, June 7 was a notably bright and sunny day in North Portland, a welcome break from the early-summer gray often seen in the Pacific Northwest. But for attendees of the Central City Concern Imani Center’s first-ever mahafali—Swahili for “graduation”—the brightest lights at Peninsula Park radiated from the clients present to be honored for their accomplishment.

The Imani Center provides culturally specific and responsive Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addictions treatment to the community. It is a one-of-a-kind program that utilizes a treatment model tailored to their clients’ experiences, created by staff members with lived knowledge of Black culture and the African American experience. According to Director of African American Services Linda Hudson, both the clients and the staff deserved a similarly distinct graduation.

“Graduating from such a unique program symbolizes accomplishment, change, commitment, and resilience. We thought it was the perfect time to have a family get together,” she said.

Some graduates completed their outpatient treatment in as little as four months; other graduates spent nearly a year in the program. All earned their graduated status as changed people who had developed the tools and found a support network vital to staying on the path of recovery.

The event started with Linda welcoming the crowd of about 40 people, which included Central City Concern staff members, graduates, and their friends and family. Also in attendance were several alumni of CCC’s Puentes program—a culturally specific addiction treatment and mental health program that serves the local Latinx population—that had forged a mutually supportive camaraderie with Imani Center participants over the past year.

Dr. Rachel Solotaroff, CCC’s chief medical officer, followed Linda and shared remarks on what she sees as making the Imani Center so special: that it empowers clients to build a home for the community of African Americans working toward recovery in a way that the community itself wanted to shape it.

Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser wowed the gathered audience with a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Larry Turner, a pillar of the local African American recovery community, addressed the graduates directly, encouraging them to continue the hard work of recovery and to uphold their responsibilities to themselves as well as their community.

Finally, the graduates were each recognized for completing the Imani Center treatment program, and all had the opportunity to share their thoughts. While each of their journeys through the program was unique, a theme became quickly apparent: though these graduates had participated in recovery groups and programs before, it wasn’t until Imani that they were able to feel and benefit from genuine one-on-one peer connections based in shared cultural experiences.

Graduate Malcolm shared a piece he had written called “A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love,” originally written for his cousin and son, but perfect for this group of graduates and their shared journey forward.

A number of graduates also shared what helped them persevere: the Imani Center staff refused to give up on them, so they couldn’t and wouldn’t give up on themselves.

And like the smell of roses in bloom at Peninsula Park, the feeling of gratitude—for the Imani Center, for people who finally understood, for the mutual care and trust between staff and clients, for recovery and hope for a better, healthier future—filled the air throughout the entire mahafali.

Though this first-ever Imani Center graduation required hours upon hours of planning, Linda believes it was entirely worth the effort and foresees many more graduations in the future.

“Our clients worked hard to achieve this moment,” Linda said. “It’s like taking a victory lap for transformation.”



Participating in Life in a Way She Never Thought Possible

Jun 21, 2017

Yesterday's blog post focusing on the Central City Concern employees who earned diplomas in the past year shared a few lines from the written remarks of one of the graduates, Kari Fiori. However, we found her whole statement to be so encouraging, inspirational, and indicative of the strength and compassion of our employees that we decided to share it in full.

• • •

Lynda Williams [of the Recovery Mentor Program] plucked me from De Paul Treatment Center over six years ago, giving me the chance to continue my "adult time out" at the Recovery Mentor Program. I desperately needed it. I wasn't ready to go back into the workforce, and knowing my history with relapse, I simply wanted to continue focusing on my recovery. I needed to get the foundation firmly in place, and I wanted to make sure I put nothing in front of the importance of not picking up, one day at a time.

Going out with the Community Volunteer Corps into the community allowed me to to get a feel for having a schedule and showing up when I was supposed to. I was able to get health care at the Old Town Clinic... the first time I'd had access to health care in many years. I went to a lot of 12 step meetings and did a lot of soul searching while I was in the Mentor Program. One thing I knew is that I wanted to get a bachelor's degree. I'd always been a good student, but my addiction didn't allow me to finish school. Every time I relapsed, I dropped my classes. Eventually, I gave up my dream of college, convinced I'd never stay clean or get a degree.

I decided to go back to school when I had two years clean and sober. I chose two years simply because I didn't want to focus on anything except not picking up for that amount of time (an amount of time I'd never been able to put together before). I was glad I waited because it was overwhelming and scary and, had I not had the recovery tools I'd gained during my first two years clean, I don't know if I'd have remembered that my recovery was my number one priority. Luckily, I did remember.

I picked Public Health as a major because it was a large umbrella that touched on so many things I care about deeply: the environment, personal health, city planning, community, etc. I never realized how political Public Health as a topic was until I started really learning about what goes into keeping us safe and healthy. I don't have to tell you how so many public programs live and die by the local, state and federal budgets passed.

During my first couple of years of school, I survived by cleaning houses. I had a decent little business built up, but the work was difficult for my middle-aged body. I still had no idea what career I was headed for, I only knew that I wanted to follow my heart and major in something that mattered to me.

One day, as I was walking across the campus, I got a call from Lynda Williams, the female Mentor at the Recovery Mentor Program. She told me that, because of the Affordable Care Act, the Mentor Program was going to expand, and would I be interested in applying for the new female Mentor position? It was a no-brainer! Of course I wanted to, and I did.

It's been two years now that I've been working as the evening and weekend Mentor at both the Estate and the Madrona Mentor Programs. It's like a dream job: I get to welcome our newest clients and talk to them about recovery and take them to meetings. Working for Central City Concern is such an honor. The work we all do affects the health of so many people, and those effects are felt not only by our clients, but by their family members and loved ones, as well.

Homes, Health, and Jobs is what it says on the CCC logo. Getting people off the streets, providing them with medical care in a place that treats them as valued members of the community, offering people a chance to get clean one more time, providing valuable mental health services, offering training and jobs through Clean and Safe and the on call positions, providing both Housing First and abstinence-based recovery programs in order to help the most people... these things and more are the things Central City Concern does that make the public's health better here in Portland.

I couldn't be prouder to be a member of the CCC workforce. Having benefited from services at a time I so desperately needed help has made me a true believer. I always tell our clients, "You are in a good place. You lucked out!" because I know it's true. I can't believe how much I lucked out, landing a job in the field I chose as my major before I even finished college! I don't know where I'll end up in five or ten years, career-wise. I only know that I plan on staying within the CCC family.

I'm so happy I'm getting my bachelor's degree, 29 years after beginning my college career in California. This coming Sunday I'll be walking in Portland State's commencement ceremony. My recovery is still my top priority, and because of that, I get to participate in my life in a way I never thought possible.



CCC Clean Start: Keeping Portland Clean & Giving Workers a Fresh Start

Jun 06, 2017

As the weather warms and the days grow longer, people take more notice of what’s going on in their neighborhoods. Central City Concern’s (CCC) Clean Start program helps keep neighborhoods clean by clearing away trash and removing graffiti. It’s also a mentored six-month work experience that gives people an opportunity to work, grow and gain crucial experience and confidence to pursue employment opportunities. CCC Clean Start runs three Portland crews and one in Gresham, each consisting of two people and a truck.

Local residents can access CCC Clean Start through the City of Portland’s One Point of Contact page online form or the PDX Reporter app. The City reviews the request and often calls upon CCC Clean Start crews to visit the area to clear trash or assist campers with cleaning. CCC Clean Start crews do not move people from sites or participate in campground “sweeps.” Their mission is to help keep neighborhoods free of litter and debris, as well as to provide residents of encampments with resources to maintain a safe and hygienic environment.

In April 2017, the three Portland CCC Clean Start crews removed 3,511 bags of trash and 1,350 needles.

Additionally, CCC Clean Start contracts with the Portland Downtown Business Improvement District to operate Downtown Clean & Safe, a service that cleans a 213-block area in central downtown and along the bus mall. CCC Clean Start also operates a temporary storage locker near the west end of the Steel Bridge where people who have no place to call home can put their belongings for a few hours while they work or seek employment.

Each two-person team has a trainee who once experienced homelessness. These trainees receive minimum wage, work 40 hours per week for 6-months and learn valuable soft skills. Toward the end of their six-month work experience, CCC Clean Start employees engage in practical, employment development workshops at CCC’s Employment Access Center where they receive one-on-one assistance in the job search process.

Some graduates move on to CCC employment in janitorial, maintenance, pest control and painting roles that maintain CCC’s 23 buildings. Others find permanent employment outside of the agency.

CCC Clean Start program keeps neighborhoods clean and gives workers a chance to gain experience and skills. It’s a win-win. For more information, visit the CCC Clean Start webpage.



Getting the Most out of Life

May 30, 2017

I lost my kids at 26 years old. They were ages eight, seven, and three. The only one I got to keep was the one I was pregnant with. I turned 27 in jail, the baby due in three months, and nowhere to go when I got out. That’s when I turned to Central City Concern. Having been in my addiction on and off for 12 years, in and out of jail, homeless, and unable to take care of myself, let alone three little kids and a newborn, I was out of options. While in jail, someone told me about Central City Concern’s Letty Owings Center (a residential treatment program for pregnant women and those with young children).


I entered treatment on March 3, 2011—the day I stopped harming myself, and started healing. Going into an in-patient program was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There were schedules, expectations, lots of sharing, and so much emphasis on accountability and self-care. I gave birth to my son Tristyn while at Letty Owings Center. He was baby number 232 born to a clean and sober mother while at Letty Owings. I was so proud to be that mother. Tristyn was healthy, and I was fully committed to learning how to be the mom he needed. Letty Owings Center exposed me to a different way of thinking and gave me new skills like planning, healthy meal preparation, money management, handing conflicts in a respectful way, positive parenting, and patience. I used a lot of the tools they taught me while I attended ongoing treatment sessions and I still use the tools today. I learned to accept help, to live life on life’s terms, and most of all I learned how to stay positive and what it takes to be a good parent. The experience I got at Letty Owings Center set me free to seek a better life for me and my family.

After I completed in-patient treatment, Central City Concern provided Tristyn and me with a studio apartment at Laura’s Place (three to six months of transitional housing for women who complete treatment at Letty Owings Center). There was more flexibility at Laura’s Place but I still had a lot of work to do on myself so I stayed on a schedule and didn’t rush the healing process. I tried to remember everything I learned at Letty Owings Center and every day, I managed my life better and better. I did outpatient treatment at Central City Concern Recovery Center four times a week. I went to recovery meetings, mental health appointments, and made an effort to listen to others. I didn’t have to fake it anymore, or be afraid, because I was actually learning how to function in society. I wanted success and I wanted to get all my kids back so I could show them a different way of life than what we had during my addiction. I was inspired by other women who were facing similar challenges, and gained confidence every day. When a bigger unit became available, my daughter Cheyenne, who’d been in foster care for a year, was able to come live with us. Life was improving.

We lived at Laura’s Place for four months and then I was given the opportunity to move into a Central City Concern family housing community. That’s when my son Ellias and my daughter Reyna got to move in. I was drug- and alcohol-free, physically and mentally thriving, and had all four of my children under the same roof. The support I got while in family housing was amazing. I had a mentor who I still keep in touch with today. She helped me through the death of my best friend, and motivated me to keep making healthy decisions. I was able to go back to school and pursue a promising future—one that I was given the freedom to envision while in safe and secure Central City Concern family housing. 

Through it all, housing played the biggest role in my transformation. Housing was the first stable piece. Once I had housing I was able to work on everything else—my recovery, going to school, paying off student loans, getting employed and off public assistance, doing therapy with my children, and teaching my kids right from wrong. I was able to move from one step to the next, not out of desperation but out of growth and informed thinking. If you don’t have a place to call home, it’s hard to get any traction. 

Housing gave me peace of mind because I knew where my kids and I were going to be sleeping every night. It gave me a safe place to start getting the most out of life. I want to be a good mom for so many reasons. Most of all because my kids deserve it. I put them through the wringer with unpredictable behavior, foster care, and not being there when they needed me.

I want them to know that your past doesn’t have to be your future. I want them to know that life doesn’t have to involve a screaming mom. They’ve been so resilient and I am so proud. My kids are smart, respectful, and well behaved—not what you would expect after what they’ve been through. Today, they would describe me as strict, fair, and fun. I feel like that describes a good mom.

Every day I look in the mirror and I’m amazed: I look calm, I look happy and I look in control of my life. There are still challenges, but I take them on with a clear head—one day at a time. Six years ago I could not have imagined that I would be the person I am today. I’ve earned an Associate’s degree and am currently in school working toward a Bachelor’s in Human Development. I could not imagine that all four kids would be with me and that I would have my driver’s license back and that I would be where I’m at education wise, career wise, and family wise. Every single step I’ve taken along the way was fundamental in getting me where I am today. It all became possible when I was offered housing and got the support I needed in order to grow into the person my kids can count on. It all became possible through Central City Concern.



Another Successful We Are Family Fundraiser!

May 22, 2017

Central City Concern's annual fundraiser for the Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs took place on Tuesday, May 2, at the Multnomah Athletic Club.During the program, CCC's Dr. Rachel Solotaroff sat down with Jamie (right) and her son, Dante (center), to talk about how CCC's Letty Owings Center and Family Housing have changed their lives.CCC Executive Director Ed Blackburn kicked off the program by welcoming the crowd of nearly 400.CCC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rachel Solotaroff spoke about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), how they contribute to cycles of poverty, and how those cycles can and are broken.
Chief Housing & Employment Officer Sean Hubert spoke about generational poverty and the steps CCC is taking to provide housing for families in need.Former CCC Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Birenbaum made a heartfelt pitch to the audience of the need to support CCC's Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs.Dante was a fantastic helper during the evening-ending raffle!We were thrilled to have Letty Owings Center Co-Founder Nancy Anderson (left) join us for the evening, pictured here with with CCC Executive Coordinator E.V. Armitage (right).The evening's entertainment was provided by  Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Famer Shirley Nanette.

Central City Concern's annual fundraiser for the Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs took place on Tuesday, May 2, at the Multnomah Athletic Club. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.

• • •

On May 2, Central City Concern held our annual “We Are Family” fundraising dinner for Letty Owings Center, celebrating 20 years as a Central City Concern program, and our Family Housing programs. The big event took place for the fourth consecutive year at the Multnomah Athletic Club in southwest Portland. Rain couldn’t keep the partygoers away and a good time was had by all.

The evening’s program was led off by Executive Director Ed Blackburn, then Chief Housing and Employment Officer Sean Hubert offered thoughts on generational poverty and the steps Central City Concern is taking to provide housing for families in need. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rachel Solotaroff followed Sean with powerful insight on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). She spoke of how CCC addresses childhood trauma while helping people break the cycle of addiction and poverty.

Our featured guest was Family Housing resident and mother Jamie, along with her 10-year-old son Dante. Jamie shared her story of overcoming addiction in the safe and supportive environment of Letty Owings Center, a six-month residential addiction treatment program for pregnant women and those with young children. She also talked about her transition from Letty Owings Center to CCC Family Housing, where she has a family mentor, has learned basic money management, and continues to safely raise and care for her three children. Jamie’s goals include pursuing a career as a medical assistant after completing the prerequisites at Portland Community College.

Entertainment was provided by Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Famer Shirley Nanette and Friends. Stumptown Photo Booth added to the to the picture perfect night.

All in all, close to 400 guests attended to celebrate and support our families and raised over $120,000 for the Letty Owings Center, which has witnessed the births of more than 270 babies, and the Family Housing program, which is home to 154 families.



Catching—and Finding—Breath

Apr 28, 2017

Volunteer Manager Eric Reynolds visited a Living Yoga session at Central City Concern's Letty Owings Center, our residential addiction treatment program for pregnant or parenting young women. What he saw was an opportunity for the mothers to reflect and rest in the midst of their intensive work to build better futures for themselves and their blossoming families—an opportunity they wouldn't have if not for Living Yoga's volunteer instructors. Learn more in our latest National Volunteer Week blog below!

• • •

The class began with introductions that included each participant’s name, their reason for wanting to try yoga, and their sobriety date. In a true embodiment of the “inherent honesty in communication” that serves as a Guiding Value for Living Yoga’s practice, the instructor initiated this introduction with each subsequent participant. With the most formal portion of the class out of the way, the next hour was filled with smiles, laughter, and a few well-timed groans as seven new “yogis” planked, scorpioned, downward dogged, and child posed their way to reconnecting their mind and bodies.

The young women who begin substance use disorder treatment at Letty Owings Center have a lot on their plate. They are pregnant or parenting a young child, fairly new to a recovery-oriented lifestyle, and adjusting to unfamiliar guidelines, procedures, and regulations that will best aid in her treatment. They attend groups with their peers and meetings with counselors; they take classes to fill their life-skills toolbox with budgeting, meal planning, and parenting knowledge. The attention and effort that goes into this adjusted life, while worthwhile, can be exhausting.

Do these young women ever have a moment to simply catch their breath you might ask?

Thanks to Living Yoga’s volunteer instructors who visit Letty Owings Center twice a week, they can now stretch muscles that might have previously gone ignored, unwind themselves, and find respite. With some combination of heavy substance use, homelessness or poverty, and pregnancy and/or recent childbirth, LOC participants have experienced serious stressors over the years. The patient trauma-informed yoga Living Yoga volunteers bring to Letty Owings Center is an ideal avenue through which to aid the women’s mental, physical, and even spiritual recovery.

“I have bad anxiety so I feel like this will help a lot,” stated Danielle after completing her first-ever yoga session. “I don’t really pay attention to my breathing very often but it was relaxing with the breathing techniques. It helps.”

In conjunction with the mental gains of her foray into yoga, Danielle appreciated the physical benefits as well. “The stretching piece felt really good. I honestly don’t remember the last time I stretched like that.”

Through their volunteer instructors, Living Yoga’s goal is to “create a safe environment in which the practitioner can learn to befriend bodily sensations, to increase self-knowledge, to improve self-regulation, and to create a place of refuge within oneself.” Learning how to create a bank account, budget for a trip to the grocery store, or repair a torn pair of jeans with a sewing kit make life a little bit easier once a participant graduates from the Letty Owings Center. With a little help from Living Yoga we can now add destress through breathing, strengthen through stretching, and finding inner peace to that list as well.



Detox & Yoga: An Unlikely, but Beneficial, Pair

Apr 27, 2017

Oftentimes a first step for those who are looking to make a serious change in their lives, Hooper Detoxification & Stabilization Center is, as the program’s mission states, “a place where hope is constantly reborn.” Many are surprised to hear that our medical detoxification center incorporates the practice of yoga into the program, but it has become a vital tool in helping patients finish the treatment protocol, improving their chances of better health and recovery. We sat down with Steve Mattsson, CCC’s Director of Detoxification Services, to have a National Volunteer Week chat about the unique way in which Living Yoga’s volunteer instructors have helped patients at Hooper not only find comfort but also helped Hooper improve its outcomes.

• • •

Can you tell me the basics? What prompted Hooper to bring Living Yoga on board?
Hooper is approximately a week-long program where people are medically detoxed. The first few days they’re not feeling very well but after that they start getting up and walking around and wanting to do stuff.

We didn’t really have a lot of activities for them, especially anything at all physical, so unfortunately we occasionally lost people who left against medical advice. We explored various things that they could do that were more physical to keep them engaged and we’d heard that—I believe it was Old Town Clinic—had some experience with Living Yoga and said great things about them. So we brought them in and initially did a pilot program with just the men and when that worked out well we expanded it to both men and women.

What kind of feedback were you wanting to hear in order to decide whether you wanted to move on with the pilot project or not?
Really the bottom line was, did the APA (Against Professional Advice) rate come down? Clients saying, “Hey, I really like this. Thank you for offering it.” is really important and we want to improve their experience here. But we also had to really assess if fewer people were leaving against medical advice now than before.

Did you see objective evidence that this worked?
Yes. We added several things during the same year as ways to bring the APA rate down. Overall our APA rates are down this year, and we believe that the Living Yoga instructors have something to do with that.

From what you see, besides the fact that it is some sort of physical activity, what about yoga is beneficial to the people who are here?
Central City Concern—and Hooper especially—have had a long partnership with acupuncturists. I think we’ve been doing it for close to 40 years, acupuncture in conjunction with the detox. And both the yoga and acupuncture really come together for these patients who aren’t feeling well. They are not at peace. Their body chemistry is out of whack and they are uncomfortable. And anything that gets them to calm down, slow their roll—yoga, acupuncture—it really helps.

With western-style medicine the nurses have to get vital signs and assess withdrawal levels and it’s all done confidentially with only one or two patients at a time. With both the acupuncture and the yoga you can work on the whole group at once and help reduce those withdrawal symptoms and that stress level and anxiety.

We have 30 to 45 patients at any time who are all detoxing and by and large not feeling well; they’re cranky. We want them to stay as calm as possible. The yoga and the acupuncture really help us keep the whole floor calm.

I know that a lot of Living Yoga volunteers have gotten some sort of trauma-informed care training. Is that something you would say is applicable to Hooper?
Absolutely. As an agency, and as a program here at Hooper, we’re all moving in a much more trauma-informed direction. Partnering with agencies like Living Yoga that are familiar with trauma-informed terminology and know what our clients have been through is wonderful. It’s excellent.

Has there been anything especially beneficial to having Living Yoga here as opposed to just any kind of yoga volunteer off the street?
Living Yoga is really sympathetic with our mission. Obviously they’ve been partners with CCC for a while and they really are about calming people down, grounding them, and showing them different ways to relax. We’ve really appreciated it. And they’re all volunteers, so they have to want to be here. They feel like they are—and they are—performing a service and giving back because otherwise they wouldn’t keep on coming. That tells us that they’re getting the kind of response from our patients that makes them want to come back again.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2017 Edition

Feb 28, 2017

When first sitting down to interview one of Central City Concern’s favorite administrative volunteers, Maureen, for February’s Volunteer Spotlight, it quickly became apparent that this chat was going to be unlike many before. Maureen openly shared her story regarding her lived experience on the streets, struggles with addiction, past criminality, and why these things motivate her to simply “lend a helping hand” today. Whether it is making the gravy (from scratch) for one of our residential community Thanksgiving meals or entering survey data regarding Old Town Clinic patient satisfaction, Maureen’s intimate connection with the services that CCC provides resonates strongly in each moment she is able to spend with us.

Our normal Q&A format couldn't do Maureen’s candor and humility justice, so for this Volunteer Spotlight we chose a small handful of unprompted quotes to share. Maureen’s unique perspective on homelessness, as well as CCC services, is tremendously inspiring and we hope you enjoy hearing from Maureen as much as we did.

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“Well, how can you help another person? You know, I didn’t use to tell my story. I used to be ashamed of it. I used to be ashamed to say that I was a prostitute or I was a heroin addict or, you know, I was with pimps and I turned tricks and all of that stuff. But now, it’s a part of the strength that I have—the fact that I made it through alive.”

“I often hear people say, ‘I love living on the streets,’ but boy if you give them a hot shower and a clean pair of clothes and a room to sleep in, they’re ecstatic. But they tell themselves that because it makes it easier to accept their circumstances.”

“I want to always offer my conditioning of what I’ve been through to other people and say: it looks really bad right now, you are at the bottom, but there is a way for you to dig yourself out of this.”

“And so the whole point I guess that I’m trying to get to is that your organization not only represents me, but it represents me today.”

“When I started volunteering here I kept focusing on this as like my next stair step, you know? I’d done all of this other stuff with no contentment. Just like, working. It’s just a job. I’m addicted to helping people. I like giving up my time and energy more than I like getting paid to do stuff and it’s just a thing with me. You’re put here for a purpose and you can’t find it if you’re in the office working. It’s not going to be a monetary thing. It’s going to be something you’re giving to people to make them delighted, to make them feel happy, and so that’s what I am doing.”

“If your organization continues to do what it’s doing we can make sure that this slows down. Homelessness is an epidemic right now and it breaks my heart because of the inhumanity of it. The ignorance of it. When you see someone sleeping on the street and all you do is step over them instead of checking to see if they’re alive, something has to change in our society to make people see past a person’s dirt and their poverty because in today’s world we’re all just a step away from being there.”

“It was a great experience to see other people that really cared, that don’t do things just because. They’re there, they’re engaged, they’re asking questions, and they’re talking to people instead of at them. I got to know quickly some of people’s circumstances and I felt that they were in good hands. I thought they were in great hands with CCC.“

“Because I started from the street and I had nothing. A pair of high heels, a big purse with all of my drug paraphernalia, and the clothes on my back and I don’t have much more than I had then, monetarily. But spiritually I’ve gained a bucket load, a truck load, or whatever’s so big that I can’t fill it. And you guys allow me to continue to feel big like that. To feel important. I like to feel big and important and it doesn’t take money to do that, it just takes doing.”

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If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in 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.