A room full of counselors and social service caseworkers gathered the last day of January to honor and celebrate one of their colleagues.
But the colleague might not be whom most would expect: she is only 23 and is incarcerated at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility.
Josefina R. recently became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor 1, known in the industry as a CADC — the first youth in OYA history to earn this certification while still in custody.
It was no small feat. She finished 150 hours of education on topics such as group counseling skills, ethics, pharmacology, and assessments. She completed 1,000 hours of supervised experience by a qualified OYA supervisor, Mike Hill. Then, she passed an exam, which she took online through the Mental Health and Addiction Certification Board of Oregon (MHACBO).
Michael Razavi, MHACBO’s director of testing, came to Oak Creek in person to present Josefina with her certificate.
“We are proud of this program because most of the people that work at MHACBO are people in recovery and have been involved in the criminal justice system,” Razavi said. “We are really proud of Joe because Joe represents us, and Joe is us. Joe is that lived experience that we want to maintain in our field so that people can have the strength and hope that change is possible.”
Josefina’s accomplishment came after her own tireless efforts, but also thanks to the hard work of OYA’s substance use treatment staff who brought the program to youth in custody.
Several years ago, they worked with MHACBO to implement certified recovery mentor (CRM) training inside OYA facilities. CRMs are mentors who use their personal experience to credibly support others through their recovery.
OYA substance use disorder treatment staff Ed Zager, Mike Hill, Scott Palmer, Christina Williams, and John Day developed a CRM training curriculum specifically for OYA. The first group of eight CRM candidates, which included Josefina, completed their training in 2017 at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility. Most of them went on to earn the certification.
Now in its third year, the CRM training program recently finished educating a class of 14 youth from three facilities.
But Josefina wanted to take her CRM training even farther, so she began working toward the CADC certification in April 2018.
“I think I wanted to take it this far because, growing up, going through my own struggles with my addiction, I didn’t really have people to be there for me, or they were there and I blew them off,” Josefina said. “I didn’t realize how many people actually had supported me. This makes me realize a lot of people actually love me and care for me.”
Josefina’s mother, Anna Avalos, beamed with pride at the event in January as she watched one OYA staff member after another shower her daughter with praise.
“When she was younger, she never went to school. It was hard. It was stressful,” Avalos said. “Maybe this was supposed to happen for her, because look how far she’s come now. …
“Whoever picked the staff here (at Oak Creek), they’ve done an excellent job. … The people here, they’ve just done wonders for their girls, and Josefina’s one of them.”
OYA’s treatment staff — now looking to Josefina as one of their own colleagues — described her as a hard worker and a pioneer with a strong sense of purpose.
But it was the words of Elaine J., a youth who recently completed the CRM training program, that best encompassed the importance of Josefina’s accomplishment.
“She’s pushed me into a lot of the things that I’ve told myself I don’t deserve to do,” Elaine said. “I wouldn’t be going to the trainings right now if she hadn’t advocated for me the way she did.”
She gestured toward the other youth sitting in the room, and added, “She’s setting the road up for us. Her name will not be forgotten here.”