(Above) Eleven youth and one staff member were part of the second cohort of certified recovery mentors who recently met for two weeks of classes at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.
The second cohort of certified recovery mentors at Oregon Youth Authority recently completed their training, and the program has become one that more and more youth and staff find valuable.
A CRM acts as a support to others during substance use treatment and recovery. It is a viable career option for a lot of OYA youth because their personal experiences allow them to relate more closely to a potential client.
“I thought helping other people would help me,” said Kathryn S., a youth at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility who was part of the first CRM cohort, about why she pursued the program.
Kathryn was one of three CRMs who returned for the second round of training, which was held over the course of two weeks in January at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn. While Kathryn’s class size was eight, this second cohort was made up of 11 youth and one staff member.
“We’re helping present different things, doing activities, answering questions, sharing things we struggle with,” Kathryn said.
The students were hand-picked by staff and the class was coordinated by Ed Zager, OYA’s statewide substance use disorder treatment coordinator. To be eligible, youth had to have completed drug treatment, continued to be involved in recovery activities, had two years of continuous clean time, displayed leadership, and had no negative incidents within the last six months.
All students in the class were youth who had been convicted as adults, because they had a specified sentence that was often longer than for juvenile commits, giving them more time to put their CRM training into practice before their release.
This practice includes cofacilitating groups, working one-on-one with youth and, in some cases, working with the youths’ multidisciplinary teams. But the certification is also one they can use once they return to the community.
“It’s way more effective (hearing advice) coming from youth than staff because I’ve been there,” said Robert M., a youth at MacLaren who was in the second cohort. “I’ve been through trials and tribulations, so guys are more trusting of me and can open up to me, and they know I’m not going to judge them.”
Unlike his 11 classmates, Robert won’t be able to obtain his certification because of the nature of his crime. But that didn’t stop him from wanting to participate.
“It doesn’t matter — it’s for my own knowledge and growth,” he said. “I want to go through it because I’m already a leader, I’m already taking a role of a mentor. … I want to help save and change other people’s lives. I can’t change my past, but I can help them change their future.”
Some of Robert’s classmates didn’t discover their passion for recovery mentoring until they showed up for the classes.
“At first it was just a thing to do, but since I’ve been part of it, I’m trying to get as much as I can out of it,” said Alfonso K., who traveled from Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility in Grants Pass for the class. “This program can really change lives. Already in just a couple days it’s changed my life. I see my faults with what I’ve done and what I do. It shines a light on a lot I didn’t know.”
With the conclusion of the training, the students — who included youth from MacLaren, Rogue Valley, Oak Creek, and Camp Florence Youth Transitional Facility, plus a staff member from Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility — can apply for certification. Of the eight in the first class, seven were certified (the eighth paroled out before earning the certification).
“These youth are ideal for this vocational opportunity because they participated in their own recovery and now they want to give back,” Zager said.
Damian B., a youth from Rogue Valley, said he hopes to build on this certification and become a certified alcohol and drug counselor, working with youth who have been involved with gangs.
“I thought that I wanted to kill myself because I hated myself, but it came from uncertainty, a lack of support — it’s not what I wanted to be,” he said. “I want to show what I’m capable of. … This is just the start of my walk.”
This Oregon legislative session could open more doors for the CRM profession through the potential passage of two bills: If passed, House Bill 2637 would require hospital emergency departments to not only treat individuals who need substance use detoxifications, but to also provide peer mentoring. Additionally, HB 2627, if passed, would require Oregon Health Authority to operate peer-managed recovery centers that would provide peer mentor support and services to individuals in recovery from substance use disorders. This would be effective in cities with populations of 100,000 or more.
For Trei H., a youth at MacLaren, the potential of a career is promising.
“It’s been beneficial in terms of a holistic approach, to be released and have a job and stability,” he said. “I believe this is an avenue to ensure I have a job and that’ll keep me on the right path because it’ll also be keeping my integrity.”
Alfonso said he hopes OYA continues the trainings for more youth.
“This program needs to continue,” he said. “It needs support looking into the future.”