On behalf of the AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Fairfield County ADAMH Board, I attended Ohio’s 2019 Recovery Conference in Columbus on October 14 and 15. I served as both a volunteer on behalf of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities and also had plenty of time to experience the conference as an attendee as well.
In my role as a volunteer, I registered attendees and moderated four breakout sessions across the two days. That Monday, I moderated a panel on how to be an “Effective Board Member” in which the executive director and chair of the ADAMH equivalent in Richland County very clearly went over the function and best practices for county behavioral authorities. Later that day, I assisted Cindy Koumoutzis, founder of the family support organization OhioCAN, deliver her presentation on “Harm Reduction Strategies for Loved Ones Impacted by Substance Use.”
On Tuesday, I supported Vice President of Consumer Affairs for Recovery and Resiliency Julie Hardle from the health services company Optum. She explained the utility of recovery-based Peer Supporters for those suffering from issues of substance abuse. To close the conference, I aided two trainers from the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) with a presentation of state-assisted services to help those struggling to find work.
The last session I moderated really hit home the purpose of this conference. This wasn’t some formal, professional, nor academic conference; this was a celebration for those who have struggled with substance abuse disorder and have begun the long and winding road of recovery. This was a tribute to the hard work and pain of handling addiction and a collective ‘pat on the back’ for those willing to try and get their lives back on track, and what’s fundamentally more American than that?
The slogan of the conference was “Recovery Is Beautiful” and that theme radiated throughout the conference center. Volunteers, staff, and attendees all wore brightly colored T-shirts, and the halls between sessions were often filled to the brim with chatty and satisfied attendees. During the at-large events in the conference ballroom, door prizes were passed out like candy at a Fourth of July parade. Someone even won a new TV!
With all the color and festivity, keynote speaker and United States Senator Rob Portman almost seemed out of place — almost, because he came to the stage wearing a conference T-shirt and was presented with a gift of a quilt stitched together from prior conference T-shirts, one as neon as the next.
Though I will probably not be in attendance next year as my year of service ends in August of 2020, I will be sure to let the next VISTA at the ADAMH Board in on this neat little secret. The VISTA program for those unaware, is a national service program to help alleviate poverty and strengthen communities across the nation. You can learn about it more by following this link.