Philip Saba used heroin every day for 40 years. “I never knew how to get help,” he said. But when faced with the prospect of jail time six years ago, he entered a treatment program in exchange for a reduced sentence, and hasn’t used drugs since. Saba is now a recovery coach for Gándara Center’s Stairway to Recovery Peer Recovery Support Center in Brockton.

Saba (pictured above, left) is one of 12 recent graduates of Gándara Center’s Training to Work (TTW) program, a workforce development grant for recovery coaching as an occupation. Their accomplishments were recognized among family and friends in a graduation celebration at Stairway to Recovery on January 25. This was the program’s second cohort to graduate—the first group of six graduated last June.

For Saba, recovery coaching is a rewarding way to give back and support peers who are in their early stages of recovery. “It makes me feel good in my heart to help other addicts and alcoholics,” he said. “I know what their struggles are. And because I didn’t get help for a long time, I don’t want to see anybody going through what I went through.”

TTW wouldn’t be possible without such community partners as Massasoit Community College, where students take courses in its Human Services program, as well as the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center and the city’s High Point Treatment Centers, which hires many TTW graduates as recovery coaches.

Kim Jones, another Cohort 2 graduate, said the TTW program has been “an incredible journey” and thanked program coordinator Cindy Brodeur for her support. One of several graduates to deliver remarks at the event, Jones is also a recovery coach at Stairway to Recovery. “Not everyone can say they love what they do for work, but I can,” she said.

Seanna Crawford said that TTW meant much more to her than a gateway to a career. “I gained custody of my daughter,” she announced, her voice breaking with emotion—a moment that elicited cheers and applause throughout the room. Crawford is now a recovery coach facilitator for the Massachusetts Organization of Addiction Recovery in Boston. She said fellow graduate Hector Sostre introduced her to the program. Sostre, another speaker at the celebration, said he is “grateful for being clean and sober and being able to help other people.”

Erin Alves explained that her recovery “is not traditional” in that she had addictive self-harm behaviors since she was 13. She credited Stairway to Recovery Program Director Efrain Baez with giving her a spot in the TTW program “and making me feel that I was worth it.” Alves, who regained shared custody of her two daughters while she was a Stairway to Recovery member, is now a Community Support Program Coordinator at High Point.

A member of the program’s first cohort group, Jennifer Marston, also spoke, recalling how she became addicted to pain pills after breaking her neck a car crash, graduated to heroin and fentanyl, and “thought I was going to die an addict.” But she was determined to turn her life around. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said.

Four members of Cohort 3 also attended the celebration. They are in an eight-month program receiving skills-based training—and participating in a five-month internship to earn a Recovery Coach certificate (and credentials). They will also receive job placement services and follow-up support.

“It has been a pleasure to get to know the people in this room,” said Gándara Center Outpatient Services Director Dr. Madeline Aviles-Hernandez, who also oversees recovery services. “It has been both inspiring and humbling to see you in action and the passion that you bring.”

The Training to Work program is funded by a Health Care Workforce Transformation Trust Fund FY’17 Appropriation grant through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and is administered by the Commonwealth Corporation. The grant, which targets unemployed people in recovery from underserved communities, helps them build professional skills needed to work in health care, clinical, or human services settings.

Know someone who is interested in becoming a recovery coach? Gándara Center is hiring. The agency will even pay certification fees. For more information, contact Ana Centeno at acenteno@gandaracenter.org or call 413-296-6030.

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