YPR: A New Generation of Recovery Advocates (Bill White and Justin Luke Riley)

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We had this vision of empowering young people, of carrying a message of hope, not proposing we have the best way to recover, not endorsing a certain kind of recovery, but just lifting up all these great things that we’d experienced and heard about…Our really big vision is a world where all young people in or seeking recovery can achieve their potential in life….We wanted to be supportive of any way a young person could find recovery.  –Justin Luke Riley, 2014, Counselor

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Recovery advocacy is not new. The roots of such advocacy reach into the nineteenth century and, since the mid-twentieth century, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and other organizations have worked tirelessly to alter addiction-related public perceptions and public policies. Those efforts culminated in the rise of a new recovery advocacy movement in the opening years of the twenty-first century with new grassroots recovery community organizations networked through the leadership of Faces and Voices of Recovery. What does stand as fundamentally new is the cultural and political mobilization of the largest cohort of young people in recovery in history—mobilization best exemplified in the activities of Young People in Recovery (YPR).

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Founded in 2011, YPR’s mission is to create recovery-ready communities through policy advocacy and the development of recovery support resources in employment, housing, and education. That mission is achieved through the activities of its 120 chapters in 37 states that are supported by a 20-member governance board, 10 full-time and 15 part-time team members, and an annual budget of $2 million. YPR work is amplified through key affiliation agreements with the Association of Recovery Schools, a consortium of recovery highs school programs; R5 / Value Up School Climate System, a school-based substance use prevention and anti-bullying program; and Rise Together, a recovery advocacy initiative for young people.   

YPR activities are guided by five foundational ideas drawn from the experience of its members and local chapters.   1) Young people can and are achieving long-term recovery from alcohol and other drug problems.  2) There are multiple pathways of recovery for young people, and ALL are cause for celebration.  3) Young people and their families must recovery together.  4) Young people in recovery and affected families are joining together for mutual recovery support to advocate for pro-recovery social policies and expansion of recovery support resources.  5) The recovery advocacy movement is for everyone:  people in recovery, family members, allies, and supporters. 

These foundational ideas are expressed through YPR national and chapter program and activities that include the following:

 Policy advocacy (e.g., congressional testimony), including sustained support for parity legislation and passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA),

Rise Together, a school-based prevention curriculum and recovery advocacy program,

Project AMP, a collaborative project with Center for Social Innovation funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation that provides mentoring-focused prevention and early intervention services,  

Project PHI, an adolescent preventive health initiative,

Bridges Project, funded by the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, provides community resource linkage services in two counties to transition-age youth who are aging out of the child services system,

EPIC program, a peer delivered curriculum consisting of housing, education, and employment workshops designed for young people during and following addiction treatment,

Project Catalyst, a transitional-aged youth and young adult peer recovery support specialist training program, offered in collaboration with the Association of Persons’ Affected by Addiction to young recovery leaders in Texas,

PUSH program, a collaborative recovery support project with United Healthcare that serves transition-age youth in Wichita, Kansas,  

Choice in Recovery – Many Pathways Initiative, a community education project hosting forums on local recovery support options,

Phoenix, an educational and peer recovery support program for criminal justice-involved youth,  

Lynx, a community education and recovery support linkage project for youth seeking or in higher education, and

EDGE, for exploring diversity, and gender equality.

All of these projects provide resources to equip and empower youth in or seeking recovery. In 2014, YPR was privileged to receive the Emerging Young Leaders Award from the National Association of Drug & Alcohol Addiction Counselors (NADAAC).

There was a time in the not so distant past that a young newcomer entering the rooms of recovery mutual aid fellowships was likely to receive a cool welcome from a crusty oldtimer proudly boasting that he had spilled more booze on his tie than the youngster had ever drank (or an equivalent comment for drugs other than alcohol). The message conveyed was a jarring suspicion that the young person simply had not earned the right of admission.  In the face of such attitudes, both addiction and recovery statuses were too often withheld or begrudgingly granted to the young person seeking help. 

That era is rapidly fading as the largest generation of recovering young people in history rise to shape the future of recovery (and of addiction treatment) in America. YPR stands at the forefront of this movement.  Far too many people have entered recovery with only limited years remaining in their lives to clean out the addiction debris, forge a new life, and share their experience, strength, and hope with others in need.  Today, young people entering recovery will have decades of life, service, and advocacy ahead of them.  What a difference this is making for them, their families, and the world!      

Those wishing to support the work of YPR can do so by clicking here: http://youngpeopleinrecovery.org/donate/ 

Of Related Interest

White, W. (2013). Young people in recovery: An interview with Justin Luke Riley. Posted at www.williamwhitepapers.com

White, W. (2013). A passion for youth recovery: An interview with Stacie Mathewson. Posted at www.williamwhitepapers.com.

 White, W. (2014). Young people in the new recovery advocacy movement. Counselor, 15(2), 64-69.