Embracing Change: Diversity Inclusion Project Showcase (DIPS) Promotes Recovery Community Organizations

Editor's note: This post is part of the ATTC Network's "Embracing Change" series.

The work to curb the impact of opioid use disorder and other forms of addiction is diverse and expansive. However, one fundamental portion of the effort comes via Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs), which deliver needed recovery support services to community members from historically marginalized, underserved communities. 

On October 5, 2021, an array of addiction and recovery support professionals and representatives from four of the premier RCOs in Massachusetts and Connecticut joined for an event designed to spur innovative collaboration. The Diversity Inclusion Project Showcase (DIPS): Promoting Recovery-Oriented Organizations, co-hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the New England Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC), was conceived as a platform to facilitate collaborations between RCOs serving historically marginalized communities, state leaders, policy makers, purveyors of technical assistance, and funders. The virtual meeting had an audience of more than 100 participants. 

Among the first to address the audience was Dr. Haner Hernandez, Senior Trainer for the New England ATTC. He established the tone of profound, personal connection that he and his colleagues have with their work. Hernandez noted the importance of RCOs, quoting renowned recovery expert William White, saying, “‘Recovery can be initiated in treatment, but recovery happens in community.’”

Dr. Haner Hernandez

The first two RCO representatives to speak were Louray Barton, Recovery Coach and Peer Specialist at STEPRox Recovery Center and Efrain Baez, Director of Stairway to Recovery. Barton emphasized the engagement and enthusiasm of STEPRox’s community members.

Baez discussed Stairway’s strides in offering an array of support services, as well as its enduring struggles and needs for support with obtaining adequate resources such as housing and multilingual health professionals.

Dr. Sara Becker, Director of the New England ATTC, spoke briefly about its mission and commitment to RCOs.

“We work to foster regional and national connections among diverse stakeholders,” she said.
Following Becker was Michele Stewart-Copes, Senior Trainer at New England ATTC. “To me, the opposite of addiction is connection,” Stewart-Copes said.

The next two CBO representatives to speak were Dr. Marie Spivey, Administrative Coordinator for Recovery Support Services, and Pastor Dana Smith, Director of New Life Ministries II. Each spoke about their RCO’s services, successes, and ongoing challenges.

“The Recovery Support Services is the first of this corporation (The Spott Unlimited Inc., a nonprofit service created by the Spottswood African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Connecticut) to launch a supportive program which is led by a recovery coach and eight to 10 recovery support assistants who are committed to work with individuals to help them find a pathway of recovery…”, Spivey said.
Smith followed her, saying, “Recovery is not a cookie-cutter kind of thing…All of us could be in the same accident, but its going to affect each of us differently.”

The DIPS Showcase, hosted by the New England ATTC and sponsored by SAMHSA, succeeded in highlighting the work of Massachusetts and Connecticut RCOs.

“(Community health workers) have been the unsung heroes of the pandemic, never giving up on their respective missions to save lives and lift up families,” said Nancy Navarretta, acting Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Deidre Calvert, Director of the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, also recorded a personal message of gratitude for the leadership of StepRox, Stairway to Recovery, and other RCOs in her state.

“I would like to express the Commonwealth’s sincere appreciation for all of you who’ve been on the frontlines saving lives every day,” she said.

Having only introduced a few of the myriad of RCOs serving the 6-state region, the New England ATTC has plans to present similar showcase events in the future.

Encouragingly, collaborations have already occurred since the October 2021 showcase. In 2022, New Life Ministries II reached out to the New England ATTC to request intensive technical assistance to help members of the clergy learn and infuse harm reduction principles into the church community. Among the results of the collaboration were a harm reduction training workshop, production and analysis of graphic messaging, and iterative development of innovative recovery tools. The New England ATTC and New Life Ministries II are now partnering to develop a train-the-trainer curriculum focused on harm reduction in faith-based communities.

For agencies interested in participating in future showcase events, or in proposing any partnerships, please contact the New England ATTC at newenglandattc@brown.edu.

Author Bios
A native of Varnville, SC, Levell Williams considers himself a product of faith, family, and community. He gained his BA in Mass Communication from Tougaloo College in 2021. Levell is a Health Equity Scholar at the Brown University School of Public Health and is pursuing a Master’s in Public Health focused on science communication.

Dr. Kelli Scott is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor at the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Scott serves as the Evaluation Director for the New England ATTC, and works to assess the impact of ATTC training and technical assistance initiatives throughout the New England region.

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