As a person in long-term recovery, I have witnessed firsthand the rise of the modern recovery community advocacy movement. There has been no bigger contributor to the growth of this grassroots movement than Faces & Voices of Recovery (F&V), a nationwide recovery community organization (RCO) based in Washington DC.
In January 2000 on Long Island, New York, 50 or so advocates – people in recovery, friends and family members – gathered to initiate a recovery advocacy movement that would give a voice and a visible presence to our nameless and voiceless constituency. In the past, this community has been overlooked and discounted by policymakers and others in positions of power. Our goal was to level the playing field for those we represent.
Since emerging on the scene in 2001, Face & Voices of Recovery has steadily grown into the best known and most widely respected RCO in the world. Our celebration of the many pathways to recovery has opened doors and removed barriers, and has welcomed many who were in recovery previously cast aside by traditional recovery purists.
After helping to launch the Long Island Recovery Advocates (2000) and Friends of Recovery New York (2008), I decided to join the board of Faces & Voices of Recovery in the spring of 2013. I had been called to this work about 15 years before by my personal belief that discrimination, if not civil rights violations, were preventing thousands of people from accessing resources and finding a path to recovery from addiction.
Charged with organizing and mobilizing individuals in recovery from addiction, their families, friends and allies, F&V has expanded efforts to reach those seeking or in need of recovery, along with the voices of families who have lost a loved one to addiction. Addiction is a top public health crisis.
The program had a tumultuous year in 2014. Pat Taylor, Executive Director, left F&V in February. Tom Hill, Director of Programs, followed suit a couple of months later. Both Pat and Tom were institutions in their own right. They were tremendous leaders and advocates who helped put F&V on the map with their irreplaceable individual and collective contributions. We are deeply indebted to these two recovery giants.
With the departures of Pat and Tom, a cloud of uncertainty emerged around the future of F&V, including questions about the continued existence of the organization. In late June 2014, the board convened for its annual retreat in Washington DC. The future of the organization was front and center in our discussions. Though the board immediately circled the wagons, we could have done a better job communicating with our friends and supporters during this transitional period. On behalf of the organization, I acknowledge that oversight and take responsibility for the extended silence.
Our board retreat has become a tradition tacked on to the annual America Honors Recovery (AHR) Banquet, which is hosted by and an important fundraiser for F&V. In 2013, we honored some prominent recovery leaders, including former NBA player Chris Herren and highly respected researcher Tom McLellan.
At the AHR gala, other board members and I were urged by many people to ensure F&V’s survival – the organization is too important, and its work and legacy must endure. To quote Tom McLellan in his acceptance speech, “Faces & Voices is the most important organization in our field.”
While the departures of Pat and Tom set the organization back, we have rallied the troops in an all-out effort to move forward. We found consensus around developing an environment of collaboration with like-minded organizations.
The F&V board members sought ways to improve the organization and to attract younger advocates to this essential work. To this end, we decided to explore a merger with Young People in Recovery (YPR), the one-year-old national movement with the mission of “[changing] the world so all young people in or seeking recovery are given the opportunity to become empowered.”
The merger was a natural fit. YPR staff members are now available to assist with the workload currently handled by our talented and committed board (most of whom juggle full-time jobs) and a single staff person.
A youthful presence in the recovery movement is an absolute necessity and blessing. The explosion of overdose deaths among young people across America has finally gotten our country’s attention. This epidemic has been attributed to the rise in prescription drug misuse, as well as a related shift to heroin – tighter laws governing prescriptions caused prices in the illicit opiate pill underground market to skyrocket.
We envisioned a natural mentorship process. Recovery advocates and leaders with decades of long-term recovery and executive leadership experience would work alongside the YPR team, who command direct access and insight into the world of our nation’s young people.
We want to establish a pipeline for future leadership by sharing skills, contacts and experiences with our young leaders, who bring eagerness, dedication and technological skills, along with connection to an identified community sorely in need of outreach and positive role models. It is a natural relationship with a built-in mechanism for leadership succession, remembering that today’s young people in recovery will someday no longer be young.
The contributions of several people have helped F&V stay the course and navigate the choppy waters of these transitional months. Jerry Gillen, Director of Operations and lone remaining staff member from the Pat Taylor era, as well as many of our board members stepped up to help meet organizational responsibilities, deliver work products, respond to requests for technical assistance and generate sorely needed revenue. Current YPR staff members, most notably Ann Herbst, have played a pivotal role in keeping F&V moving forward. We are indebted to our young friends for their assistance and willingness to help.
Thanks also to our friend Greg Williams, creator of The Anonymous People film and a staunch F&V supporter, for his significant fundraising efforts. Greg recruited supporters and helped make the 2014 America Honors Recovery event a success. The Anonymous People movie continues to inspire a new wave of advocates from coast-to-coast.
In November 2014, F&V hosted the fourth annual Executive Directors Leadership Academy (EDLA) in Denver, Colorado. More than 65 advocates and leaders from our Association of Recovery Community Organizations, representing 25 states and the District of Columbia attended. There were training sessions, technical assistance and educational workshops to equip them for the changing landscape in recovery support services.
As merger talks continued into December, both YPR and F&V staff agreed that additional collaborations with our friends and related organizations must begin, so that wherever possible we can streamline our efforts and messages to encompass like-minded forces.
To help stabilize Faces & Voices and further bolster the merger possibilities our board unanimously voted to hire Patty McCarthy Metcalf, a current F&V board member, after an exhaustive search for a new Executive Director. Patty is a well-known and widely respected advocate and recovery community leader.
The goal of a unified presence and voice remains within our grasp. It will raise our profile to attract dedicated resources and enable future growth. We are excited about our future prospects, including some major announcements related to National Recovery Month in September 2015. We are part of the recovery revolution as we continue to build the recovery infrastructure across America and align with existing advocates.
As a powerful addition to our cause, we welcome the many families who have lost a loved one to addiction. They are a force to be reckoned with. I am humbled by the selflessness, courage and dedication they embody. As they harness unimaginable grief into advocacy on behalf of other families with similar losses, they give a great gift to others impacted by addiction. Their efforts are a tremendous tribute to their departed loved ones.
We continue our dedication “to organizing and mobilizing the over 20 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, our families, friends and allies into recovery community organizations and networks, to promote the right and resources to recover through advocacy, education and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.” I hope you will join us!
Richard Buckman is the Director of the Labor Education and Community Services Agency’s Employee Assistance Program in Hauppauge, New York. He is a founding member (2000) and current President of the Long Island Recovery Association. He is the Founding President (2008) and current board member of Friends of Recovery New York, and the current Chairman of the Board for Faces & Voices of Recovery. For more information about F&V, go to their website at http://facesandvoicesofrecovery.org.