A Christmas in July with Peers
With community activists, recovery specialists, academics and local residents in recovery on hand, Lisa Lee, herself combining all those attributes, recently opened a new large, multi room, sunny Sparks office for peer community recovery.
After an opening speech introducing staff and the center’s guiding principles, attendants were invited to fill out recovery reminder cards which would be sent out to them on the anniversaries of their sobriety.
The event was billed as a Christmas in July, Grand Opening of the Northern Nevada Recovery Community Organization, with Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve also in attendance. Prior to the gathering, Lee explained the importance of having a staff of so-called Peer Recovery Support Specialists, who have lived experience.
“Not a lot of providers know [...] what it's like to be on the bus for two and a half hours to get from point A to point B. If you're in recovery, chances are you've experienced homelessness, you've lived in abject poverty, you've accessed things like food stamps and food banks, you've ridden the bus, you've ridden your bike, you've walked places, like all of these things. So it's really helpful to have people that are in the know walking with people,” Lee said.
A Kind, Open and Mobile Approach to Help
Lee says traditional methods of quickly directing someone to available resources isn’t always the best approach.
“I say things like, ‘How can I best support you? What are your goals? What do you need to do today to be alright?,’ because it might not be like, ‘Oh well you need to work on your resume and look for a job,’ when they're freaking hungry or their lights just got shut off or whatever it may be,” she said. “Like checking in with environmental conditions and how they're coping with those right now is super important rather than like, ‘You need to go to a meeting.’”
The new center will have mobile, outreach programs, like helping incarcerated women, and also meeting with people living without stable shelter on the streets or along the Truckee River. Other organizations, such as a local Crystal Meth Anonymous group, are also using the space to hold meetings.
Drawing on Her Own Experiences
Lee says inclusivity was a huge determining factor in choosing a location. She originally wanted to be in downtown Reno, but never found a place that was wheelchair accessible such as the Sparks location, which already had a ramp. Lee said Reno’s rents were too high anyway.
She said she will draw on her own experiences getting help, and then helping others with other local organizations in recent years, to guide her work.
“Recovery is an interesting experience because it's a lot like being reborn or something and you're like this little raw, squishy egg in the world trying to figure it all out. I think having other people who've been there, like those have been the most impactful people for me. [...] Not somebody who read it in a book, but somebody who like walked through the fire and came out of it. I just think that's really important. I think it's almost like an obligation that you at least help one other person,” Lee said.
Lee, who was known as Turtle while living on the streets during her early adult years, lost many of her close friends due to the hardship of their lives.
“I wake up in the morning everyday at four and I go for a run and I listen to an audio book and I watch the sunrise and I hear the birds chirp and I'm just like, ‘This is something that so many of my friends don't get to do because they’re dead.’ I think about that and I'm like, ‘God why am I here?,’ There's a lot of like survivor’s guilt. [...] But then it’s like, well I am here so I’m obligated to make sure that someone else's kid doesn't die, to make sure that they get a chance.”
Lee says her goal is to one day close her doors because that would mean the problem is solved. However, until then, Lee plans on helping people even if it’s as small, she says, as planting the seed in someone’s mind to consider or at least become educated about recovery.