Rise Recovery’s Blog

Rise Recovery Staff Spotlight: Eric Daxon

Joanne & Eric Daxon

A fisherman with a PhD. A family man and an Army Colonel. A literal nuclear physicist who holds a Certified Recovery Support Peer Specialist credential, Eric is never exactly what he seems. Eric Daxon is a cheerful, funny, and wholesome jokester of a peer recovery counselor. He’s big on puns and even bigger on laughter. Eric celebrated 5 years with Rise Recovery in February.

  • Favorite Ice Cream: Buttered Almond (only available on the corner of 38th Street in Mount Holly, NJ)
  • Favorite Color: Blue (the color of his wife’s eyes)
  • Favorite Flower: Daisy (they remind him of his wife)
  • Go-To Karaoke Song: Sweet Home Alabama
  • Hobbies: Fishing, Playing the harmonica

Q: What is your PhD in?
A: Health Physics. From the University of Pittsburg in 1992.

Q: You’ve earned a lot of letters behind your name. If we listed them all, how would they read?
A:  Col. Eric Daxon, CRSPS, BS, MS, PhD

Q. So recovery is a family business for you. Your wife, Joanne, is part of Recovery Werks, another recovery focused organization. And she wrote a book that’s on my shelf. What was the title?
A: A New “Normal” Now

Q: And what’s the book about?
A: It’s the story of our family. When my kids were in the middle of using [substances] and just starting into recovery. It covers from about 1996 to 2000 or 2001.

Q: You once told me that back then you didn’t feel comfortable dropping your 13-year-old daughter at an adult-focused meeting like AA. Why?
A: The average age in an AA meeting is 50. Putting a 12 or 13-year-old in a room of 50-year olds just doesn’t work.

Q: Because a 12-year-old and a 50-year-old aren’t truly peers?
A: Yes. Plus, there are people in those meetings who are trying but not yet sober. If you’re drinking, you’re deadening. To make the meeting more helpful for other people and to really get the most benefit out of it yourself, you’ve got to be your authentic self. But drinking does change that. It changes your authentic self. Just smelling alcohol on someone else’s breath can be triggering as well.

Q: So instead, you brought your children to Rise Recovery?
A: Yes. And we also joined the Family Program meetings in 1996.

Q: Some people say that you can’t get sober in your hometown. Is that why you moved to San Antonio?
A: That’s not what I’ve seen. Because people that live in San Antonio for their entire lives get sober here. It’s harder, but it’s about changing people places, and things change. The people you used with don’t go to the places where you use and get rid of the things that remind you of using, and you can do that without leaving town. I mean, as soon as we showed up here, my daughter found the drug use because it’s really easy to do. And the first person she introduced me to, I think, was her drug dealer.

Q: Why do you think it’s important that the parents be in our family program?
A: So if the kids want to use, they can use, and the geographic solution just doesn’t work. The problem with minors is they can’t change their parents. If their parents are enabling, either through codependency or actually using, they can’t just say, “Well, I’m not going to hang around with my parents anymore.”
And that’s one of the reasons we want to get the parents into recovery, because they will change. They will change how they approach the kid. And so the people the kids hanging around with, he will change them when they get into recovery because they’ll just change on their own.

Q: I’ve heard a rumor that you’re working on a book?
A: Yes. It’s a guidebook for coaches working with families. So I completed a first draft, sent it to an editor, a professional editor, and she sent me 25 pages of comments. I’m working through the comments now. Hopefully sometime summer or winter, it’ll be finalized.         

Q: And you put out a CD?
A: Yes, it’s called “How To Play Piano In 5 Minutes.” I thought I was supposed to sell a whole bunch. I wasn’t. No, I made the CD for one person, apparently. We ran into this lady at first Friday in downtown San Antonio. She was at a shop and she said, “Eric, I just wanted to tell you that I was going to commit suicide, but I listened to your CD, and I didn’t.”
So I was supposed to make one CD and hand it to her. Instead I made 1,000. And I still have maybe 700 left.

Q: How did you end up going from a parent in the family program to a peer recovery counselor?
A: I spent 30 years in the Army, and initially I started thinking about retirement at 20 years. I thought high school teacher sounds good. No, not a high school teacher. And then about 25, 26, 27 years, when the kids started getting sober, I thought, counselor? I could be a counselor.
What I didn’t realize at the time was God was saying, “No, I’ve got other plans for you, Eric. I want you to go off and do this research stuff with this research institute. That’s where I want you to go, and I want you to stay there until the summer of 2017.”
But I didn’t come to Rise until the winter of 2017, so I basically said no to leaving. So He laid me off. And the next week there was a free course to be what was then called a PRSS (Peer Recovery Support Specialist) now RSPS (Recovery Support Peer Specialist.) So I took the free course, started interning here, found out that, yeah, this was the right thing for me to do at this particular point in time. This is where God wanted me, and as of today, still wants me to be. So that’s why I’m here.

Q: And somehow now five years have flown by?
A: Somehow five years went by. I don’t know how that happened, but when I look back, just a lot of changes. When I first got on, we were lucky if we got one or two people at coffee. Just major changes.

Daxon Amphitheater

Q: One change is the “Talent No Talent Show” that you head up annually?
A: There’s one reason I’m so hot on the “Talent No Talent Show.” In 1997, I got voted to be the family group representative in the show, and I was voted in because I wasn’t there. Instead of volunteer, it was volun-told.
So I picked up a harmonica the day before, played. Sounded really crappy. I wasn’t going to play unless I could play something that sounded okay. And I found a sweet spot on the harmonica. I’ve got enough rhythm to make it sound good, so I thought, okay. So I played, tried to play “Oh Suzanna.” It was terrible. And then I played the sweet spot, and people came up and said, “Eric, that was really funny. You acted like you couldn’t play, but you can really play.”
So I kept playing, and being able to play the harmonica is one of the things that got me through the rough spots. I got something out of that really helped me, and I’m hoping that gets passed on.

Q: Why do we do these types of activities?
A: One of the things, the main thing is to teach folks how to have fun again and to let them know it’s okay to laugh. Even though I came in thinking, “What the heck is wrong with these people? They’re laughing. Drug addiction is serious.”
It is serious. But one of the cures, I guess, is learning to laugh again. For the family member. It is okay to laugh in the middle of a crisis. That’s how you build your resilience.

Recovery Lab Podcast with Kal Grant

Kal Grant, Rise Recovery Board Trustee

You may already know that Rise Recovery program staff is comprised of people in long-term recovery. What you may not realize is that recovery extends to other staff members and our board members as well.

Board Trustee, Kal Grant, gave an interview on the Recovery Lab podcast earlier this week. Her powerful testimony of recovery is tempered with funny anecdotes and relatable scenarios that make this a fantastic way to spend some free time.

Please be aware that this podcast contains adult language and descriptions of lived experiences that some may find difficult to hear.
Please do not listen to the podcast if these things are offensive to you.

Rise Recovery Staff Spotlight: Jovan Gonzales

Jovan with siblings, Cecilia & Jonah

Jovan Gonzales works as a youth peer support recovery coach at Rise Recovery. Like all members of our program staff, Jovan is a person in long-term recovery from substance use and has an amazing story to tell.

Favorite Ice Cream: Lemon Cookie Ice Cream
Favorite Color: Yellow
Favorite Flower: Sunflower
Go-To Karaoke Song: What’s New Scooby Doo? by Simple Plan
Hobbies: Sleeping/ Powerlifting
Sobriety Date: June 12, 2021

Q: What’s a normal day at work like for you?

A: Chaos! As a member of the youth program staff, my day starts at 4:30 PM after our recovery high school, Rise Inspire Academy, ends their day. Usually, about eight students hang out after school, before we start the evening group meetings. Those three or so hours between school and meetings we spend hanging out with the youth. Keeping them engaged. Letting them be teenagers. There’s always something going awry or some drama going on. I listen, offer solutions, or sometimes just hear them out. So often, our participants don’t have a lot of experience with just being heard. They are always being directed or told how to navigate the situations they encounter every day. So it’s nice for them to just kind of let it all out. After that, we have our APG (Alternative Peer Group) meetings.

Q: What happens at an APG meeting?

A: I remember the very first one I ever attended before I was officially a member of the Rise Recovery staff. I was technically just kind of volunteering then. Auditioning for the role. The way the youth are able to articulate their wants and needs in these situations really surprised me. I remember when I was 15, 16, 17 years old and not able to articulate the way these kids do. So now, to be in a room of teenagers who can clearly convey the situations they are experiencing and how it makes them feel, is a really unique experience. After the meetings, we have a whole lot of fellowship (social time with peers.)

Q: What is a goal for you when it comes to the youth you work with at Rise Recovery?

A: I feel one of the main things I strive for at Rise is to create a safe and secure environment for them [youth participants] to feel seen and heard. I strive for that every day because I never had that growing up. I think it’s really important. Listening is a huge aspect of what we do. If the youth don’t trust us, if they don’t share with us, then we can’t help them.

Q: Do you hold activities? When and where?

A: We hold activities on Fridays and Saturdays. Depending on the weather, we may go off campus or stay on site. The focus of our activities is to show the youth participants how to have fun again without the use of substances in a secure environment around people who want to stay sober. Our activities sometimes offer unique experiences our youth may never have had before. For example, we did a candle-making activity once. And we had a new participant who hadn’t really been interacting in our meetings. However, during the candle-making activity, they got curious and watched with wide eyes. They really participated and stayed engaged with the activity which allowed the new participant to start interacting with their peers for the first time. After that activity, the new participant started opening up and was more receptive to sharing in groups. They started staying after the meeting to participate in fellowship. So the activities are fun, but they also provide a low-stakes opportunity for youth to engage with the staff and each other; to integrate into the recovery community in a low-stress situation.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: PTO! [Paid Time Off] It’s the first time I’ve had a job that offered PTO. But, I don’t think there’s a specific part that’s my favorite. I know when I was still on probation, as I was finishing probation, that I wanted to do some kind of recovery coach position. I was looking at Lifetime Recovery and another one I was considering. Then Rise really just kind of fell into my lap. A former employee made a post on Facebook asking if anyone was interested in this position. I remember seeing it and thinking, “That’d be super dope! But it couldn’t be me.” Then 20 minutes later, I thought, “I’m going to reach out.” The next day I did a phone interview. Two days after that I came to the campus to see how things go and if I meshed well with the youth and other staff. That was a unique experience for me. I knew I wanted to do something in the recovery field, but I never, NEVER, expected to be working with teenagers. As intimidating as it was originally, looking back I try to give a lot of what I didn’t have growing up. I think that’s kind of my favorite part: to be for someone else what I didn’t have.

Q: What’s the hardest part of the job?

A: I think the hardest part of the job is when a youth comes in having a really hard time, but they aren’t yet willing to accept help. There are some youths who come to us but are content with maintaining their current lifestyles. They have no intention of changing or getting help truly. It’s really disheartening when they tell you the stories and things that they’re going through, you give them a handful of solutions and options, and they refuse to consider it. Then they come back later after having these negative experiences, new traumas for them. It’s really difficult when they’re here, but they’re refusing to accept any kind of guidance.

Q: You submitted a picture of yourself with your siblings. What do you think your impact is on them as it relates to the work you do?

A: I feel, living in the home, I might have a more significant impact. But I also have to consider the negative impact that my substance use had on them. By doing the work that I do now and mainstreaming my own recovery and sobriety, I can be a positive influence for them. I know when I was still using, there were certain points when I was living at home with my family, and I would have relapsed the night before. My main concern was to keep it from the kids because I didn’t want them to know. For one, because of shame and embarrassment, and for two they were just really young and didn’t need to know. So now, being able to be sober and in recovery, I’m able to go be a functioning, productive member of not only my community but my family.

Q: Are you proud of where you are now?

A: Yeah. If you had asked me a year ago where I’d be, this wouldn’t be it. At this point a year ago, I was still on probation. I was still in sober living (privately owned homes for people recovering from drug or alcohol issues.) I was just over six months sober and still kind of struggling. I was working at a restaurant which I really disliked. I was working on the steps, gaining trust, and rebuilding relationships. In the year since I graduated from the probation program. I am done with sober living. I have my own apartment. I work out. I have pretty great relationships with a lot of people that I didn’t stay in touch with for a long time. It’s all coming together.

Q: What does the future hold for you?

A: I intend to stay at Rise for a fat minute. But I want to go back to school and get my Masters Degree in Family Therapy. That’s probably going to be ten years before I finish. One of the things about substance use is that you have to rebuild your emotional and social skills again. Once you start using substances, they stop developing. Now I’m just trying to figure out how to be an adult. It’s the first time I’ve lived by myself. I have bills under my name! I spent a lot of years in my substance use disorder, and now I’m just taking time to really figure out what it means to be a person, an adult. Be responsible. That’s really cool.

Q: Any last thoughts?

A: I always tell the kids to be good, or be good at it. And they tend to be very bad at it. So I advise them to be good.

The Knot: Volume 1 Issue 2

Rise Recovery is grateful for our Friends of Rise Recovery: a group of donors making monthly donations that sustain our mission. Monthly donors receive a special perk: our new quarterly magazine, The Knot.

Read the winter issue here: Volume 1 Issue 2

Monthly donors will receive a physical copy of the magazine in their mailboxes soon. If you would like to become a Friend of Rise Recovery with a monthly donation, please follow this link below to sign up!

Become a Friend of Rise Recovery Today!

Rise Recovery Staff Spotlight: Bea Blackmon

Bea Blackmon’s career with Rise Recovery started unexpectedly. As she prepared to start an internship at a different organization, Bea learned that the internship had been abruptly canceled. With nowhere to start, she turned to her former program director, Shelly who had told her if she needed anything to let her know. One phone call changed her entire career trajectory.

Starting as an intern for Rise Recovery, Bea climbed the ladder to being a peer coach for the juvenile probation program to Youth Recovery Community Center (YRCC) manager. Now Bea is our program administrator for the first recovery high school in San Antonio, Rise Inspire Academy (RIA.)

What made you feel that it was necessary for our community to have a recovery high school? 

For a while, I worked with the YRCC program going out to the schools and working with the youth in the evening. Through our Alternative Peer Groups (APG) groups, I saw how difficult it was for them, being in the school environment; It’s challenging. By the time they saw us in the evening, it was like they were just like exhausted. I wanted to know what we could do to help make recovery easier for them. 

I wound up attending a conference for a program I was a part of, the association of recovery in higher education, through our Lady of the Lake University. While there, I ran into Tanya Jopling, who works in juvenile probation for Bexar County. We heard about Archway Academy in Houston from their executive director, Sasha. As we were listening about this recovery high school and its framework, we both knew that we needed something like this in San Antonio and went to work to make it happen. 

I knew it was vital that we had something like this for adolescents. It resonates with our mission and goal. I wanted to see what we could do to bring this to fruition. We knew the need was there; it’s always been there, but more about how we make it happen. Rise Recovery had the recovery piece, but we needed someone to do the educational part, where Braination came into play. The next thing we knew, we were starting a recovery high school. 

As a Vice Chair of the Association of Recovery Schools, where do you hope to see recovery high schools like RIA in the future?

To not only be funded but also be a staple of education and a continuum of care. The care continuum needs to be reviewed in partnership with the adolescent’s education. That’s what our students and participants need. Recovery high schools offer so much when it comes to their growth and coming into adulthood.

One of our students reached one year of sobriety, and I remember when he first came to us. His journey has been beautiful to watch. 

As someone who believes in advocacy, self-determination, and continuous empowerment for those you help, why is it essential to be a resource for those in recovery?  

 You know, I meet so many people, whether adults, adolescents, or parents, who don’t know that recovery even exists. It just blows my mind, but I understand it as well. Because I think about when I was growing up, I had no idea any of this stuff existed. So being able to share that with others, advocate it, talk about it and bring it to the forefront because you don’t know what you don’t know. The more we’re able to reach those who need it, or maybe they might not need it right now, perhaps they will need it later. Or they could pass that information on to someone who does. 

We talk about how in every household, there’s one of us. Somewhere, every family has a person that experienced an issue with substances. There’s a loved one who’s hurting from someone who’s experiencing issues with substances. So, having and knowing that information is power. It’s important to me to be able to advocate for those. I’ve seen people going through the struggle, going in and out of a system. They’re not getting the healthcare and support they need because it’s [substance use disorder] looked at more criminally than as someone who needs help. It’s a health factor, you know? It’s a disease. It’s an issue with the disease. It’s chronic. It’s a progressive illness, and it should be treated as such.

Bea gives a student a Monkey’s Fist- a symbol used at Rise Recovery to commemorate a participant’s first 30 continuous days of sobriety.

What would you like to see in the recovery community in the future? 

I’d like to see more of a system for adolescents. It feels as though people don’t think adolescents need to detox too. There are no systems for them as they now have for adults. They need a place to detox and stabilize where they go into treatment and then have that continuing care. There are quite a few adolescents that do need sober living or need an environment outside of where they’re living now. A place to get that start that they need and understand that recovery doesn’t happen in 30, 60, or 90 days. You know it’s a lifelong journey.

It’s not pretty; they forget and don’t want to do it. They come back, but a seed is planted. And I’ve been working with quite a few people; kids that call me like three, four years later, you know. I’ve been here for five years now. Every person I’ve ever worked with who left Rise Recovery has either asked for help or reached out or gotten back into recovery. I think that right there is the most important thing to remember: who we are and what we do. And that’s the plant to see for growth. It’s just essential to remember that.

What is your favorite thing about working with RIA?   

I would say the students. The students that we have are students that would not be in school otherwise. They wouldn’t; I’m serious. I get multiple texts, or I’ve talked to parents that said, “Oh my God, like my kid actually wants to get up and go to school.” They’ve never had that. They get up and go to school. They want to be here. And they never had that before. That’s probably one of the coolest things. The fact that these kids want to be here, you know? They want to be here, and for themselves. They are trying, and just getting up in the morning is a victory. Being here is a victory. They could be doing other things, but they’re not. They want to do something different. 

I got a call from a young lady that I was trying to get in here last year. And she wasn’t ready. She called me and says, “I can’t do this anymore, and I’m ready. I’m ready. I need help.” And that was awesome. Yeah. Wow. I can’t explain that feeling. She’s here now, and I’m happy for her. I know she’s been through a lot. So, to see those awakenings and the kids light up is remarkable.

What advice would you give someone starting in their recovery journey? 

Don’t stop. Keep going, and don’t stop. Don’t stop until the miracle happens. Keep going and don’t stop. Ask for help. You see, I found out that I couldn’t do this thing alone. That’s the biggest thing. You cannot do this thing alone. Find your tribe, your five. The five people you’re surrounding yourself with that’s the direction you’re going.

Rise Recovery Staff Spotlight: Ian Boarnet

Ian Boarnet, RSPS
Peer Recovery Coach for Rise Inspire Academy

Rise Recovery’s Ian Boarnet, RSPS, sat down with us to talk about his journey going from participant to staff member, life as a Rise Inspire Academy (RIA) youth peer recovery coach and what it means for him to tell his story to the youth.

So, tell me about yourself and what you do at Rise Recovery?

I am a peer recovery coach for our recovery high school which means I use get to use my experience of getting sober at Rise Recovery to show the people that recovery is possible and perhaps will help lead them to recovery.

 Can you talk about your experience with Rise going from participant to staff member?

So, I had been living in Austin before I went to being a staff member for about a year and a half prior before starting at Rise. It was weird because I was separated, but not too much. It was cool being on the other side of things (going from participant to a staff member) and being able to pass on what wisdom was given to me.

What type of legacy do you want to leave here at Rise when it comes to the RIA program?  

I hope the students are able to learn a thing or two about me and the tools I used to stay sober.

Ian speaks to the Winners’ Circle at Churchill Highschool, 2022

What type of advice would you give a student who’s starting at RIA?

Stay honest, open-minded, and willing. Remember that we’re here to help you and that you’re loved the second you walk through those doors.

What do you think makes the RIA program so unique to Rise?

When I was a group member here it was when Bea (staff profile) was starting the recovery high school. When RIA started, it provided the opportunity to bring what Rise does to a school setting which, in my opinion, is very important for teenagers to have that resources. Adults have sober homes, but teenagers need something like a recovery high school because most teens spend more time at school than they do at home.

What is your favorite thing about working with RIA?  

I’m able to be a part of something that I wish I had.

What advice would you give someone starting in their recovery journey?

Recovery is not something you do on your own. No one gets sober by running off of their own ideas. We get sober by finding someone who has what we want and by doing what they did.

What advice would you give someone wanting to work in the recovery field?

Continue to work on your recovery; continue to stay sober. People don’t hire us for any fancy degree, they hire us for the knowledge we gain through our own experience.

Ian, Valerie and Jessica receive recognition from Incarnate Word University for their outreach efforts surrounding substance-use education.

Recovery Uncovered: Season 2 Episode 4 | Fentanyl & Naloxone

Each month, Recovery Uncovered brings great information as well as moving stories to the forefront of the conversation around recovery. October’s episode features Evita Morin, Rise Recovery’s CEO, with timely information about the country’s current fentanyl crisis.

Staff Spotlight: Ricky Hill, Armani Jè Balderas and the Dynamics of Telehealth

Rise Recovery’s Ricky Hill, Youth and Telehealth Program Manager, and Armani Jè Balderas, Telehealth Youth Peer Recovery Coach, sat down to talk about the importance of telehealth peer recovery, giving back to the recovery community, and what legacy of telehealth can have at Rise Recovery!

So, tell me about yourself and what you do at Rise Recovery

Armani: I have been with Rise Recovery for about 8 months now, and I am the telehealth peer recovery coach. I work with the youth and provide services for our youth through telehealth program. I am also one of the Spanish language family counselors.

Ricky: I’ve been here about 10 months I’m the YRCC, Youth & Telehealth Manager so I oversee all telehealth operations, everything with our YRCC (Youth Recovery Community Center) and APG (Alternative Peer Group.) I’m also a Spanish language youth and family counselor.

So, let’s talk a little bit about Telehealth; what do y’all think makes Telehealth so unique to RR?

R: I think the unique part about telehealth is that we do everything that our in-person services provide. Everything from one-on-one counseling, group sessions, social activities, and even the family support groups, but we’re able to reach communities that normally wouldn’t have access to these resources. I Which definitely would’ve been something vital for me as a teenager because I came from that type of environment. So, it’s cool that we get to reach to those kids that need the help. They just don’t know where to get it.

A: The thing that makes telehealth unique for me, and what I’ve seen, is the fact that we provide that barrier-free service. We have that ability to reach people who may not have vehicles, people who may not have the opportunity or the resources to actually go out to the resources that are out there right now. We bring those resources to them. That’s the important thing; that we’re here to bring everything that they need so that there’s a “no-excuse” kind of thing. In addition, through telehealth we can reach a whole lot more people. As of September 1st, we just got funding to go statewide so we’re not restricted to only certain counties anymore. Our wings are expanding, and we’re able to reach more and more people.

Left to right: Armani Jè Balderas and Ricky Hill

From my understanding y’all our working on giving your youth participants in Telehealth resources that they can take back to their community?

R:  So recently we’ve been doing a lot of educational presentations on subjects like fentanyl, which has been really impacting a lot of communities. So even if a kid is not struggling with substance use, the fact that we get to present to so many students that once, they have the education in prevention. They have that awareness of what may not be going on currently in their community, but the possibility of what could happen. So, they have that as a cautionary tale to go by.

A: To piggyback off what Ricky was saying, you know, providing that education for me, I know would have helped me a lot when I was in school. And basically, we’re kind of putting a dent in that school to prison pipeline because, when they get in trouble, it’s just a constant cycle. It’s like they get in trouble, they go, they go to an AEP (Alternative Education Program), you know, and then AEP all over again. And then by the time they, go to juvenile probation or they go to regular probation, because they’re not being given the education on – about fentanyl, on the different drugs, on how the drugs can affect your family, things like that. So, we provide that that that education to try to put a dent and to try to prevent, more cases.

Can you talk a little bit about the importance of giving back as a community especially as individuals in recovery?

A:  I’ve always been a very giving person. I’ve always been someone who, warms my heart on my sleeve., If you can see it, it’s there. But especially when it comes to the work that we do and recovery, there’s a saying in recovery: we can only keep what we have by giving it away. The more we give away, the more we get. So, you know the saying the only way to receive blessings is to give blessings, that is how I that is how I see this program. With every child that I talked to, with every participant that I talked with, every family member that I talked to, I’m giving them a little bit of hope that there is something better. I’m giving them that option to choose something other than the path that they were going down. And the entire organization, whether they are in recovery or, they have somebody going through recovery or they’re going through some sort of 12 step program has that love and dedication for these participants. And That’s something that is just so amazing and something that me personally, in my almost 40 years of existence, I have never seen in any other organization. So, I think that’s what sets us apart. And the beauty of this organization is that it gives resources that are absolutely 100% necessary everywhere. And that we provide those services with love, compassion and caring. So that’s how I see the things that we do.

R: The biggest way I give back is giving these kids something that I never had. My journey with substance use started at 15, and it was on and off throughout high school. But regardless, I’m pretty sure my life would have turned out a lot differently had I had resources like Telehealth because where I come from, there is no such thing as recovery. There is no such thing as freedom from substance use. So, to be able to, to give these kids something that otherwise they wouldn’t be aware of. Giving them a voice because like it’s been said in a lot of and especially in the education system, children are better seen rather than heard.  That’s definitely the barrier that we try to break on a daily basis.

Left to Right: Ricky, Armani & Sarah dressed up for Red Ribbon Week

Going back to telehealth, What’s the best thing about being a part of telehealth?

A: Something that that Ricky had brought up, brought to our attention a long time ago was to actually ask these participants, what excites you, what makes you happy, what’s going to make you want to come back, you know? We got a lot of great feedback and, as coaches, we needed to come up with something that was going to fulfill what they wanted. So, we started with our social activities, we started doing interactive activities. One of the activities that we did was to make God boxes, we bought all the material for them, we sent it out to them and we explained the concept of a God box and explained what it was and how it can help and things like that. And, you know, they decorated it, they put glitter, they painted it got very, very creative with it. And, the impact that we saw that we were having, allowing them to listen to music, have fun, and, just know that for those two hours that we were doing our social activity, they did not worry about any kind of substance use and that’s the main important thing is that when we come to these kids, we do not identify them the same way we identify ourselves. You know, we don’t tell them, oh, you have a problem or you have this. We allow them to come to us and allow them to tell us, “Hey, I have a problem. This is the help that I need.”

 When it comes to telehealth, what legacy do you want to leave?

R: I’ve met with different people and asked them for their opinions on telehealth services. And it’s usually like, no, that’s never going to work. But my biggest goal and my vision for telehealth are for this to be at some point like the national model for telehealth substance use services because it’s something that’s a bit unorthodox, but now it’s become a little bit more normalized, especially with COVID. But my biggest goal is for it to be a nationally recognized form of recovery.

A: Being the first people to launch this, you know, this telehealth program, it’s like we are setting the foundation. To build that foundation we work hard, do what we need to do and get our name out there to be nationally recognized. I want [Rise Recovery] to be THAT organization., As soon as somebody comes in and says, “Hey, I’m suffering from this,” or “I’m dealing with this.” BOOM: here you go. Here’s a pamphlet for recovery telehealth. I would like to see it go global,  

I think it’s also important to note it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows.  We have difficult times that we have to face. We have ideas that clash or, ideas that that aren’t, seen thorough- We have time. We have our bodies. But the one thing about this program and about talent especially is that, going back to when I was talking to a lot about the love, compassion and caring, it’s like we carry that for ourselves as much as we carry it for our participants and for everybody And, it’s something that I’ve never experienced. And, coming into this is our organization. It was just something that I was like, the first time somebody put their arms around me told me, “I love you,” I was like, “What the heck?”

What’s your favorite thing about Rise so far?

R: Of the number of things that make this place so amazing, it’s the opportunity that it gives me to interact with the youth and even the families as well. Because I lived through that journey which I had to go through in order to get to where I’m at now, I get to connect with you. And the best part about it is like I’m coming at them from a different angle than people came at me. I come at them and say, “I don’t work for your school. I don’t work for you for the justice system. I don’t work for your parents. I’m here to support you. Somebody will help to support your family.” And the best part is that approaching it as a team unit with every family, that’s still the main goal. [Our approach is to] really just to make them feel at home; that sense of belonging that I know they’ve probably lacked for a long time.  Aside from the staff and everybody else, that’s my favorite part about working here is just how I’m able to approach the use now.

A: My favorite part of working at Rise came from one of my participants.  He had his difficulties. He had his things that that were there were, life on life’s terms, right.  He had his things going on for him. But he came back, and he successfully completed the program. He was one of the first to complete this program, and being able to still have that connection with him, being able to text him and to see how wonderful he’s doing because of this program and to know that a little piece of his success came from the hard work that we all put into it. And, it just makes me believe and it makes me want to do it more.  You get that little taste of ice cream, and then you want the whole gallon, you know what I mean? So that that’s what it is for me. It’s the fact that knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life, I am just a little piece of the puzzle in the big picture.  It also helps that we have amazing leadership.

R: The transformation I have gone through my fair share of I wouldn’t say negative experiences, but like trials and tribulations. To finally have my first participants finish the program I hadn’t seen them in like two months. And he comes back, and he finishes [the program] and we do our last one-on-one over Zoom and he’s a completely different person. He’s saying, “Yeah, I’m doing these things to take care of my mental health. I’m doing all the things that you taught me, like the coping mechanisms and all that.” So, to see that what we’re trying to teach them is actually being applied in their life. And because of that, that transformation is being made. Those success stories make everything so worth it. Absolutely.

What is some advice that you would give any participant coming to rise or just anyone who’s on their journey of sobriety?

A: I guess the best piece of advice would be a two-part thing for me. Um, the first thing would be something that we get told. A lot of times in the room, some of our recovery is “Give yourself a break.” That’s something that I’ve always told my participants, I’ve shared about this a lot is the fact that you do not let your past mistakes dictate your future actions. And, then I explain to them with that, just because you made this mistake, just because you did this and you got caught, it does not make you a bad person. You are a good person who made a bad decision. And because you’re coming here, and you’ve taken that first step to walk through those doors or to turn on that laptop to get on to our telehealth program. You made the decision to not allow your past mistakes, to dictate your future actions.

R: For me, the biggest piece of advice, and this is actually the biggest piece of advice that I got (and its so cliché) was trust in the process because. I’ll say this has been one of the most difficult processes that I’ve been through. But because I’ve trusted in it, and I’ve done the work that I’ve had to do, my life has gotten way better than I could have ever imagined. And I think that’s something that kind of sort of keeps us out of recovery. At least something that kept me out was, I didn’t know what the process looked like, nor did I really care to know. But I was rolling with the punches. Going through adversity. Dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with being in recovery, because it’s temporary and the hope that comes out on the other side of that, it makes everything so much more worth it. So, it’s a lot of just trusting in this and, getting comfortable with being very uncomfortable.

What advice would you give a participant who’s just starting out in the telehealth program?

A:  One piece of advice and I think that that both Ricky and I can agree on this, is that the best piece of advice is that when we let them know that we don’t work for their probation officer. We don’t work for their school district. We don’t work for their parents. We are only strictly there for them. It breaks down a wall or breaks down a barrier that, that they’ve already had built up on them. And, the best thing to do is to let them know I’m here for you. Without you, I don’t exist. And so, what that puts the ball in there that gives them the opportunity to say, “Hey, this person is really caring about me.” And especially when you keep that, that, that one on one with them, and you keep touching base with them, like send them a text message randomly, you know, once a week or something, just checking up on you. How you doing? It makes them feel like you are really, really here for them.

R:  It’s kind of hard to come up with an answer to this because, I feel like my first interactions with participants have been very different because it’s very different dynamics that we deal with. And it all goes back to trust for me, because if there’s no trust, there’s nothing. There’s nothing going back to the, you know, I don’t work for your PO or for your school district or for your parents. We’re going to get through this. We’re going to get through this. But if you will, just confide in me; trust me just a little bit. And help me to help you. Being open with us and also like reassuring them that, I’m working at your pace. I’m not here to push my beliefs on you. I’m not here to tell you what I think you need to do. I want you to tell me what you think is going to work for you. What do you think is going to help you get some progress towards this ultimate goal that we have? Like really empowering them to make that decision. I think that’s when everything changes.