Sitting in my truck on a hot August afternoon in the parking lot of the Bagel Tyme in Valatie, NY, waiting to meet with Youth Voices Matter’s program specialist Lori Teaney for a chat over a cup of coffee about her specialized outreach in the area, it’s hard to comprehend how the forces of time and experience can bring us together just as easily as they cause us to drift down separate paths. For both Lori and myself, having been class-mates in our youth, our meetup is the culmination of a decade’s long dance with life experiences. At times we have rushed headstrong against the current of time with an intractable sense of purpose and determination, at others, life has taken the lead and forced us to confront challenges for which we have no control.
Today, through her unflappable perseverance, Lori has turned her tango with life into a weapon used to combat addiction and help those in recovery. So, as I sit in the truck on a hot August afternoon, peering out the weather-beaten windows expecting to see some version of the young girl I knew in high school, I am struck by the kind image of only time can present. The image of confidence that comes from times of uncertainty, tranquility from unrest, a patient smile from someone who has seen the truth in urgency and the extension of a helping hand born out of those particular challenges that need one the most.
Lori is today a young woman who has scaled her own mountain of life experience, and with the help of her team members at Youth Voices Mat-ter, has dealt a dramatic and uplifting blow to the state of recovery in the Hudson Valley.
Web of support
In 2017, Youth Voices Matter was founded as an ancillary of Friends of Recovery-New York, an organiza-tion that was established in April of 2008 and has since dedicated itself to providing supportive pathways to re-covery for those individuals in search of aid for either themselves or family members. One year prior, the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Abuse Services, or OASAS for short, established its Bureau of Recovery Services in response to a growing shift in the perception of what recovery means and how to help individuals achieve meaningful and long term recovery successes. As a result, the Bureau and its community leaders put together several initiatives to help stem the tide of addiction and change the face of recovery down to its very core fundamentals, starting with com-munity outreach.
One of the primary goals for this newly formed Bureau of Recovery Services was to diversify its members for the purposes of reaching a wider swath of individuals who may not understand what their recovery op-tions are, thus one of the area’s very first Recovery Implementation Teams (RIT) was born and the nature of drug recovery would forever change in New York state.
Part of this evolution in the percep-tion of recovery included utilizing professionals and experienced indi-viduals from all over the state includ-ing family members of those affected by addiction, county representatives, members of local law enforcement, and professionals from the criminal justice, child welfare and mental health systems. RIT also shifted its focus towards new kinds of individual recovery methods by implementing focus groups, recovery centers, and establishing a statewide Recovery Conference. Since its inception, Friends of Recovery-New York has been in-strumental in leading the charge in effecting positive changes regarding the public’s knowledge about what re-covery means and how individuals in need can access a variety of recovery options available to them. Nearly a decade later, Friends of Recovery-New York’s influence had become impos-sible to ignore and the focus became to condense the community outreach aspect across the state. After applying for a grant through OASAS, Friends of Recovery-New York was able to fund its umbrella projects, including in 2017, the in-troduction of Youth Voices Matter, a statewide youth recovery community organization. Despite this revolution-ary step toward a more personalized approach for recovery, Lori and just two coworkers are responsible for covering the entire state. Lori herself covers four regions, the North Coun-try, Capital Region, Mohawk Valley, and Upper Hudson Valley. Being a former certified peer recovery advocate herself, Lori is used to working remotely and traveling to communities across the region to offer support. After helping start the Columbia County chapter of YVM, Lori currently finds herself going into communities and connecting with youth and young adults in search of an outlet to spread helpful informa-tion and raise awareness about what recovery actually is. Lori also hosts events and activities to promote an interactive atmosphere regarding the steps towards recovery. Not just for those individuals in recovery, but also allies of recovery, people impacted by drug addiction and have experienced the difficulties of recovery first hand, “If you have lost someone to addic-tion or you know someone who is struggling and you don’t know how to help yourself and you just want to give back and be a vessel for comfort and aid, that is what we offer.”
Confronting an epidemic
YVM’s impact couldn’t come at a better time for residents and lawmak-ers in the Hudson Valley. Since 2005, the pervasiveness of opioids in upstate New York has been well documented and the numbers of individuals who have battled the drug in its various forms has reached epidemic propor-tions. According to the National Asscociation of Attorneys General’s website, drug overdose death claimed the lives of around 64,000 Americans in 2016. “Drug overdoses are now the lead-ing cause of injury death in the coun-try and, while prescription drugs are primarily responsible for the rapidly growing number of overdose deaths, illicit opioid drugs such as heroin and fentanyl are significant contributors to the problem,” according to NAAG. org. Though YVM’s mission is moti-vated by every type of recovery need, Lori shows no pretense with regards to the impact of the current opioid crisis, “I don’t think recovery discrimi-nates depending on the drug, but the issue in New York has become much more dense because of the increase in opioid use.” Part of the solution may involve taking steps that have very little to do with the drugs themselves and more to do with preventative measures that will allow individuals access to the very essentials of life. According to a piece of legislation included in the New York State bud-get approved in April, state employers will be eligible for certain tax credits starting in 2020 as a result of hiring individuals in recovery from drug addiction. Each victory represents one step in the long road to com-prehensive recovery support, that’s why reaching out to local legislators remains critical to the success of or-ganizations like YVM. “Opioids have made recovery a more present issue in our area and there are a lot of people in our group who have experience with a wide range of addiction issues to combat this crisis,” explains Lori.
Youth Voices Matter stands firm on the foundations of their “Four Core Values:”
- Each community should decide on which areas of concern to address.
- The power of reinvention has the ca-pacity to restore the lives of individu-als, families, and communities.
- We are capable and should be allowed to represent ourselves as young people in all endeavors.
- Resources, services, and supports are crucial in promoting health and well-ness in the process of achieving our full potential. As Lori reflects on her time spent experiencing both sides of what it means to struggle with addiction and seek help with recovery it becomes clear that she has grounded herself
As Lori reflects on her time spent experiencing both sides of what it means to struggle with addiction and seek help with recovery it becomes clear that she has grounded herself in a personal mission – a mission that has been carved out by time – to better the community and the individuals she encounters every day, “I used to meet somebody in the field who was struggling and I would simply bring them to detox. Though this role can be as helpful as anything, my role now is more community-involved, bringing groups of people together to not only advo-cate for recovery, but proactively work within the community to help sustain healthier ways of living.”
We are truly never the same people we once were, and those we knew in our youth naturally change and evolve over time, but sometimes, when time draws the curtain back on the present, the person you once knew now embodies the heart of what every individual should aspire to achieve, a constant desire to connect with those that need connection the most. “I want people to understand that nobody’s path to recovery is the same, recurrences happen, addictions happen. How we perceive people is important for healing not only individuals in recovery, but all of us as a community of people who live and work together.”
For more information on local recovery or-ganizations please visit www.for-ny.org and www.youthvoicesmatter.org. All statistical information in this article obtained from the National Association of Attorneys General, or www.naag.org.