By Mark Powell
Crafting a New Life
Art does more than look pretty. It touches our soul in a way that words can’t. It reaches us, challenges us, and even inspires us. For some folks living on the shores of Lake Erie, it also plays an important role in their recovery.
Just ask Joey Supina, executive director of the Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center. He’s not only an artist; he knows all about recovery because he’s in it himself. So is everyone who works at the Center. It’s the basis of the peer-based services they offer people who are struggling with mental illness and substance use issues. “We started doing it in 1996 before there was even a name for it,” he says with a chuckle. “Just because you’re in recovery doesn’t mean life stops. Life is just starting.”
The organization’s sole goal is integrating recovery into the community, to wash away the stigma that all too often haunts people struggling with mental health or substance misuse issues. And they do it with art. Consider the masks. They line the Center’s walls. There are more than 1,500 of them now, each telling the story of the person who decorated it. They contain tales of experiences, an inspirational quote, or what the person is feeling. “From my own experience, I know that art heals,” Supina says.
The Center supports that healing with a variety of services including recovery meetings, training people for peer recovery support, Connections meetings, yoga, alternative 12-step programs and providing peer recovery services in local hospitals.
Its annual Recovery Walk, held for the last six years, consists of a march to a local park, with state senators and representatives participating. There’s also Wellness Appreciation Day. The group’s signature event is Camp Recovery, where participants meet on an island in Lake Erie for what Supina calls “one big 12-step event.”
People all across Ohio are responding to what Sandusky Artisans offers. In 2018 alone, 11,014 people visited the Center for its many meetings and events. All of its services are offered free of charge.
Asked to share the story of someone whose life has been changed by the Center’s work, Supina pauses to think. “There are so many,” he explains. Then he remembers a woman he met while giving her peer support in jail. She’s now a state-certified peer support specialist and a trauma-informed care instructor. And there’s the man whose life was in shambles because of heroin use disorder. He’s now in class learning how to supervise job and family-service peer support. “People are remarkably successful when you give them the support they need,” he adds.
“If you change the culture, you’ll change the problem,” Supina concludes. Sandusky Artisans is working hard to bring about that change. One mask, one peer-topeer-connection, and one burst of support at a time.
Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.