By Mark Powell
Addiction isn’t limited to big cities. Take Cecil County, Maryland, for instance. It ranks in the middle of the state’s counties by population, yet it has Maryland’s second largest drug overdose death rate. Local residents knew they had to get involved if things were to change.
Voices of Hope started in 2013 as a resource for people in recovery and their families. “We thought, we have to stop waiting for the state to do something. We have to do it ourselves,” says Jennifer Tuerke, Chief Operations Officer of Voices of Hope. Its goal is to advocate for recovery resources, mentor new people in recovery and eliminate the stigma of addiction. They honor loved ones lost to a drug overdose through ornaments on a Christmas tree which stands all year long.
This small but influential Recovery Community Organization conducts outreach events through four avenues: Healing Hearts Grief Support, Hope Street Backpack Outreach, Overdose Survivors Outreach, and Homeless Outreach. The staff and volunteers are people in recovery or family members impacted by addiction. “Lived experiences are worth gold,” Jennifer explains. She’s been in recovery for 30 years. “They take the pain, hurt, and sometimes shame of addiction and turn it into something that helps other people.”
Tommy, who conducts outreach for Voices of Hope, uses his own addiction experience to help others. “I’ve been there. I lived under a bridge for nine months. I’ve learned that the networking skills acquired on the streets can help me with connections now. It’s great for the people who saw me when I was wild and crazy to see me helping others now.”
Voices of Hope offers a training track for Certified Peer Recovery Specialists, assisting with earning certification and paying exam fees for students who need assistance. “This certification is a way to standardize recovery support and raise the recovery capital of the entire county. The certification allows people new to recovery to reenter the workforce, be introduced to higher education and gives value and worth to recovery,” says Jennifer. “It also gives people in recovery, or those who struggle with substance misuse an opportunity to use their voice for advocacy.”
“One size does not fit all in recovery. But if we come together, we can make a difference. Community connection is the answer to addiction,” says Jennifer Tuerke, Voices of Hope’s Chief Operations Officer.
Size, it seems, does indeed matter. Not the size of a community’s population, but rather the size of the hearts in those people willing to help others on the recovery journey.
Voices of Hope 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.