The Turning Point Center of Chittenden County is a peer-run recovery center for those in recovery from substance abuse (alcohol and/or drug addiction). Our 2016 guest survey of 195 guests suggests that the majority (61%) of our guests are in the first year of recovery. The first year of recovery is filled with many challenges around housing, employment, and physical and emotional issues.
A New Kind of Support for Substance Abuse
It was clear to me that we needed to be able to support our guests in ways that had not been done previously.
As Executive Director, my day is filled with meetings, addressing issues of the board, writing grants and supervising staff. I have very little time to provide the one-on-one connection with each guest. This is where the idea of the recovery peer support worker was hatched.
About three years ago we had a graduate school intern at our Center. I set up the internship to test the idea of this new position. She was a counseling graduate student so I knew she had good listening skills, and she became versed in our community resources. That was the combination needed to be an effective peer support worker. I watched as guest after guest lit up when she would ask them, “how are you doing in your recovery?” Many of our guests have social anxiety on top of their addiction history and the intern would gently pull them out of their shell. A game of Scrabble would prove to be so helpful in making connections.
Funding Our Recovery Peer Support Worker Program
Today, with funding from the UVM Medical Center’s Community Investment Fund we are able to provide recovery peer supports five days a week for five hours each day.
We decided to have five different people offer the service. That has allowed us to have cultural, gender and age diversity among the five that one person could not have provided. Peer support workers need to have at least one year of sobriety, good listening skills and a command of community resources. They all keep a log of their interactions with guests which serves as a great tool to hand off to the next peer support worker who comes in the following day.
As their supervisor, I read the log to see the kinds of support they offer and the issues that our guests bring up. To say the least, our recovery peer support workers have deepened our efforts to support and enhance the lives of our guests who are working hard to grow their recovery. Our goal is to have a recovery peer support worker on duty during our daily recovery support hours that are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. We are off to a good start!
Gary De Carolis is the Executive Director of the Turning Point Center in Burlington, Vermont.
The Community Health Investment Fund at the UVM Medical Center supports a wide range of community programs and initiatives that improve the health of our community. The fund is overseen by the Community Health Investment Committee, which is made up of both community members and hospital staff. We invest $800,000 annually in efforts that further the priority areas identified in the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment. To date, we have supported 23 programs at 19 organizations across our service area in our current fiscal year. The 2017-2019 priority areas are: Access to Healthy Food, Chronic Conditions, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Supportive Housing.