Health Center’s Recovery Coach Academy Graduates Locals Prepared to Take on Opioid Crisis
by Joe Girard-Meli, Marketing & Communications Manager
On Wednesday, April 17, the Merrimack Valley Area Health Education Center (AHEC), a program of Greater Lawrence Family Health Center (GLFHC), celebrated the graduation of its first Recovery Coach Academy class, made up of 22 students from around the Merrimack Valley, at the health center’s administration building at 1 Griffin Brook Drive in Methuen. The 60-hour course, taught by professional recovery supporter Steven M. Chisholm, trained participants to provide strengths-based recovery for those fighting alcoholism, drug addiction and other addictive behaviors.
The program was supported through a grant from Massachusetts Area Health Education Center, which addresses the concern of health disparities in the Commonwealth with a focus on workforce development.
Though the academy’s class came from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences — including employees of The Psychological Center in Lawrence and first responders from the Lowell fire and police departments — the 22 students had one thing in common: a commitment to tackling the opioid crisis that has been devastating individuals and families in the region for years.
“I’ve lived in Lawrence since I was ten years old,” said Michelle LaJara, who works as a medical case manager for GLFHC’s Community Support Services program at 100 Water St. in Lawrence. “Every day, I see what the opioid epidemic is doing to us.”
Her job at GLFHC may deal directly with the population hit the hardest by the opioid crisis, but LaJara said her reasons for joining the Recovery Coach Academy were more personal.
“I love being from Lawrence, and I want to see my people succeed and do well. I want the negative stereotypes surrounding our city to be over,” she said.
Newmarket, N.H. resident Tom Whalen works as a program director and case manager at Link House, Inc. in Salisbury, Mass. He says he got into the program because he thought it would bolster the job he already performed, but came away surprised at how much of what he knew was flipped on its head.
“I’ve been in the field for 15 years, and learning the approach that a recovery coach has to take — as opposed to the one I take — it’s almost completely opposite,” he said. “That was an eye-opener for me. It showed me that there are many roads to recovery. We have to meet the recoveree right where they’re at.”
Exeter, N.H.’s Stephanie van Kleeck, a 40-year senior social worker who works for the state Department of Mental Health and a local homeless shelter, described the experience as “superlative” and “life-transforming,” saying she truly believes the skills participants learned through the academy will save lives.
Chisholm was singled out for praise by members of the class, who cited the way he injected humor and relatable lived experience into a subject that is deadly serious.
Henry Cabrera, of Derry, N.H., found Chisholm’s humorous role-playing exercises the highlight of the course — and said the instructor alone was worth the price of admission based on “how knowledgeable he is and how much fun he makes the course … especially when you have to sit in a class for eight hours.” As a peer navigator at GLFHC, Cabrera feels he’ll be able to directly use what Chisholm taught him to improve patients’ health outcomes.
Whichever way each of the graduates chooses to use what they learned through the Recovery Coach Academy, it’s clear that having 22 more people trained to address one of the most pressing problems facing the region can only be a successful achievement.
Recovery Coach Academy Graduates — April 17, 2019
Maribel Pena Almanzar