Kayla Parsons has a new lease on life, and, ironically, some of her darkest days have become qualifiers for her bright future thanks in part to a new program inspired through the collaboration of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR), the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP), Sullivan University, and Addiction Recovery Care.
Parsons, a native of Boyd County, is a Peer Support Specialist at Karen’s Place Maternity Center, a Louisa-based facility that is part of Addiction Recovery Care’s network of seven in-patient and four out-patient facilities throughout Appalachia Kentucky. She was part of the inaugural Peer Support Specialist Academy graduates in May 2017.
The program is a passion Addiction Recovery Care President and CEO Tim Robinson. It is to provide meaningful and purposeful vocational and soft-skills training to those in treatment. His rationale is that recovery is best attained when a client finds gainful employment after treatment.
The program also immediately addressed a shortage for Addiction Recovery Care. Since 2013, the company opened 11 facilities and Peer Support Specialists play an important role in addiction treatment. So much so, that Kentucky Medicaid defines them as a Behavioral Health Practitioner.
“Essentially, this program enables those who meet the requirements to go from an IV needle user to a behavioral health practitioner,” said Robinson. “That’s an incredible turnaround, and it provides employment and a great resource for our clients who are going through recovery.”
The idea of a Peer Support Specialist Academy started with an impromptu conversation between Robinson and Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR.
“I told Jared about the plans I had and the challenges we faced ,” recalled Robinson. “He [Jared] immediately talked about the opportunity to possibly collaborate with EKCEP.”
EKCEP is the federally recognized workforce investment board that serves 23 counties in Appalachia Kentucky.
“Jared made the connection with Jeff [Whitehead], and he was here in a matter of days,”said Robinson.
Jeff Whitehead, executive director of EKCEP, said collaboration is a core value in EKCEP’s mission to prepare and advance the workforce in Eastern Kentucky.
“Our partnership with Addiction Recovery Care is at its core an outgrowth of our commitment to seek innovative solutions and visionary leaders within our region to conquer our toughest challenges,”said Whitehead. “Our partnership with Addiction Recovery Care is about more than recovery from addiction-it includes the recovery of hope, talent, and productivity. It’s also about recovering our workforce. Individuals like Tim Robinson and Matt Brown are becoming vibrant and essential leaders and valued workers in our efforts to shape our Appalachia just like many others have and will in the future.”
The idea of hiring those who were successful in treatment came after Robinson made a promise to those in treatment. If they successfully finished phase I and phase II of the Addiction Recovery Care program and completed a nine-month internship, he would hire them.
It’s been one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“It’s filled an important need for our organization,” said Robinson. “We have passionate people doing important work in the lives of those seeking treatment. Many people that successfully complete a treatment program want to work in the field, and they provide a much-needed perspective to those going through the program.”
Robinson also said that the number of patients going from phase I to phase II of his treatment program have increased from 40% to 70%. He attributes that jump to the access to the Peer Support Specialist Academy.
Since the state’s inception of the program, Addiction Recovery Care has trained more than half of the state’s Peer Support Specialists. To be eligible for the program, a person must have successfully completed a state-recognized treatment program; be clean and sober for 12 months; have earned a GED or high school diploma; and completed a 40-hour training course by a certified entity.
Parsons had dealt with the roller coaster of relapses with addiction for many years.
“I would relapse because I could not find any type of employment,”said Parsons, a mother of two. “I was labeled an addict, and if I did find employment, it was entry-level employment with no future. The Peer Support Specialist program has given me so much hope.”
Matt Brown, chief of staff at Addiction Recovery Care, is especially proud of Parsons. He recalls the first time he discussed the Peer Support Specialist program at Karen’s Place.
I went around the room and asked each patient what this would mean to them,”recalled Brown.”Kayla broke down. It was obvious that opportunities beyond treatment had been an obstacle for her.”
She’s now gainfully employed, providing an invaluable service to those going through treatment, and being a productive member of society.
“This program and my faith have me on a clear path, and I am thankful that this program is bringing opportunities for those going through recovery,” she said.
Robinson said programs, like SOAR, are connecting resources and promoting a culture of collaboration across many sectors.
“The work of SOAR is so important, especially in this time of transition and opportunity in Appalachia,”said Robinson. “Because of this relationship, we are looking at new ways to bring new opportunities to our patients to assist them in overcoming barriers of gainful employment after treatment.”
Robinson is also thankful for the work of Congressman Hal Rogers and Governor Matt Bevin.
“Eastern Kentucky is a laboratory for solutions to the opioid epidemic. Congressman Hal Rogers is a national leader on this issue and helped us get our first center open through the UNITE treatment voucher program,”he said. “Governor Matt Bevin is making Kentucky a second chance state and is doing all he can to expand access to treatment.”
On November 16, in a beautiful sanctuary at the Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church in Midway, Ky., Robinson watched as 15 more people in recovery,as he referred to as his heroes, graduate as Peer Support Specialists. It included James Gary Hager, who had battled addiction for more than two decades. He described recovery as one of the first goals he completed in life.
His outlook was simply stated to those at the graduation: I’m no longer part of the problem, I’m part of the solution.