“I can remember when Aspire first began the Recovery Focused Initiative, Intellectual/Developmental Disability staff struggled with the concept of people ‘recovering from a disability’.” Fast forward four years and any of the IDD staff will tell you that recovery looks like a person living a life full of meaning and to their highest level of independence while enjoying the community where they live.
Marvin is a person with a mild intellectual disability and a history of abusing substances. This year, Marvin celebrates seven years of sobriety. Marvin shared that he had used alcohol and illegal drugs since his teenage years. “Now, I don’t drink or smoke dope. I want to try and quit smoking cigarettes too.” Marvin shared that prior to choosing a path of recovery, he was “on the chain gang…I was not a happy person then.” “Aspire helped me stop using, helped me talk about my problems, learn to take care of myself and believe in myself.”
Marvin now has his own home, with his name on a lease that he shares with two housemates. Marvin is employed at a local grocery store where he worked prior to being incarcerated. Being in a small town, Marvin is well known and people are constantly asking about him if they haven’t seen him in a while. “I like having a job. It helps me stay out of trouble and I like having my own pocket money.”
Aspire staff that interact with Marvin daily shared, “Marvin is a lot more social than he used to be. He is not so much the loner; he will visit with his peers, laugh and cut up.”
Marvin is recognized as having a great sense of humor and a twinkle in his eyes when he smiles. He describes himself as, “happiest when I am around folks and talking.” Marvin enjoys all things sports and is active in his local community by attending local recreational and high school games. According to Jackie Garrett, Aspire Care Plan Coordinator, “Marvin is very kind and giving. He enjoys helping people. He will buy them a snack or share his food.”
Over the past year, Marvin has been able to start rebuilding a relationship with his family. He has reconnected with his adult daughter and learned that he is a grandfather! He has grown to be comfortable in telling others not only what his needs are; but what he wants out of life. He understands that while he has direct support professionals that assist him in the community, he is able to make his own decisions. He has visited the Georgia Capitol to speak with his legislators about needs for people who have an IDD diagnosis.
At 58 years young, Marvin is a strong advocate for himself and believes in lifelong learning and desires to become a concrete mason. “I would like to be able to work with my hands.” When asked what he enjoys most about life, “I have a purpose to get up and get dressed. My day has meaning, something to do and people to be with.”
Looking back, it seemed that drinking always had a certain allure for me. Maybe I wanted to be more like the adults who occasionally drank at family functions or I wanted to “fit in” with the crowd as I got older. One thing was perfectly clear, once I felt the effects of alcohol, I instantly knew that I would do it again. What began with a few drinks grew into an addiction to multiple substances that took me to places that I never believed a “guy like me” would or could end up. I grew up in a good family, with good morals, and I knew right from wrong so there was little to nothing that would indicate my coming spiral into addiction. Drinking became a daily habit and at the age of 26 I began to use illegal narcotics. By age 33, I was in full blown addiction, had been arrested for felony drug possession, and had entered my first treatment program. That began a 12-year battle that found me in and out of jails and treatment programs, desperate and wondering if I would ever be able to recover.
After yet another setback I landed at the Anchorage of Albany, GA on July 17, 2017. I was broken but willing to give it one last try. They say itʼs always darkest before the dawn and a truer statement could not be made. I decided at that moment that I would heed the wisdom of the staff, my chosen 12- step fellowship, and the God of my understanding. During my stay I met a wonderful woman and Recovery Ally, Mrs. Gennie Marcus, who came to speak with us on Saturday mornings. I discovered that she was an Aspire employee on the BHCC and I conveyed my interest in that line of work, but expressed my concerns about my criminal history. She encouraged me to apply anyway and talked about how Aspire was looking for people with lived experience. It was not an easy path to employment but by taking action (Roger and Sandra, thank you, for answering my litany of phone calls) and following the suggestions my recovery network, I was able to work through the DBHDD requirements. I received the call to report to orientation the DAY AFTER I completed probation!
My journey at Aspire has been nothing short of amazing. I started as an HST at DOCO Outpatient and had the pleasure of greeting each individual as they came in. That position really taught me the value meeting people where they are in their journey and the power of a welcoming smile. Six months later, I applied for a new CPS (Certified Peer Specialist) position at The Change Center. Helping develop this program from the ground up has truly been one of the most fulfilling accomplishments of my life. It has also afforded me the opportunity to add invaluable training to compliment my lived experience so that I am able to carry the message of hope and recovery in our community. A perfect example of this was my being able to pick up my 2 Year chip in Atlanta while attending the CARES (Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist) Academy to obtain my CPS-AD. In March of 2020, I was selected to attend Forensic Peer Mentor training and receive my CPS-F. I am now trained to use ALL my lived experience, with addiction and entanglement with the criminal justice system, to support peers at The Change Center, Dougherty County Jail, the Department of Community Supervision, and anywhere else the call to be of service to others takes me.
Recovery has taken me from a college drop out to a college graduate, from a state prisoner to a state employee, allowed me to regain my right to vote, and made me into a contributing member of my community. My family is proud of me today and I get to be a good son, brother and uncle. I am a trusted employee, a friend that can be counted on, and I have finally become the man that I always intended to be. The gifts of recovery are too many to list but I will say this…I am living the best life I have ever lived and I am forever grateful to God, family, friends, my recovery network, and Aspire BHDD for second, third…ninth chances.
I remember sitting in a hotel room hundreds of miles away from my home feeling as if I wanted to die. For the first time in my life I desperately wanted a way out of my state of existence at that time. I understand now that I didnʼt want to die, I was just tired of living. This point of desperation and subsequent chain of events led me to ASPIRE BHCC where one symbolic road ended and another began.
Before I became subconsciously dependent on a chemical, my life had already proved to be unmanageable. Local and County jails, State and Federal prisons became the normal of my life after high school up until I was thirty years old. I always wanted more than what I had become but I was unwilling and unable to grasp the idea that my way of living life was my problem and not life itself. I grew completely tired of my physical freedom being taken away as a result of my rebellious nature. Freedom from incarceration without a new way to live led me to a deeper incarceration of the mind which led me to chemical abuse in a useless attempt to escape my reality. Chasing a high became the only avenue of surviving the day. My program of recovery teaches me that a drug is a drug is a drug. I hid for years behind the justification of my drug of choice being legal. Regardless of the lies I told, jobs I lost, money I spent, relationships I damaged, probations and paroles violated I grew deeper roots of denial. One acronym for D.E.N.I.A.L. is Donʼt Even Know I Am Lying. Sure itʼs not spelled exactly accurate but the idea is 100% true for the situation at that time. I was living a lie based on my determination to accept an illusion over the harsh truth of evidence. I had grown accustomed to slow suicide with my victims piling up as I harmed myself and others over and over again. I had become a very dangerous person because I had a problem and didnʼt care.
I canʼt possibly tell my lifeʼs story in a few paragraphs simply because my life is still going. I have been the recipient of grace and unmerited favor of two lifetimes in one. I wondered how I was going to die on 11-26-2014 and I ended up walking through the ASPIRE BHCC doors on 11-27-2014. I did not know or understand how I ended up in such a pitiful state. I did not know if it were possible for me to go on in any direction other than where I had been going. ASPIRE provided a temporary pause in the insanity of my life. The employees spoke to me with compassion and understanding while providing me options of treatment once I discharged. I took some suggestions and attended the thirty day TOUCHSTONE substance abuse program that is a part of ASPIRE. I followed more suggestions and continued through a long term treatment program which I completed. I became employable and heavily involved with a program of recovery that has kept me free of all mind altering, mood-changing substances (including alcohol) for almost six years now. Last but not least, I have the humble employment of working on that very same crisis unit of ASPIRE as a case manager for individuals that have found themselves in similar state of crisis. How ironic that I am now one of those empathetic employees that does my best to carry a message of hope for any and all that may come through our doors. I am also a Certified Peer Specialist for Mental Health and Addictive Diseases. Did ASPIRE recover for me? Absolutely not, that would be impossible. ASPIRE fostered my own aspirations for a new way to live and I am proud to be one of the many that do our best to provide that kind of human service.
“Living A Meaningful Life”
Recovery-oriented, person-centered practices are at the core of our Intellectual/Developmental Disability Services. We believe in helping people create a life that is meaningful to them and enjoying their highest level of independence will enjoying the community they call home. It is our mission to CONNECT people with Community, Employment and Relationships.
In 2015, Lakeyzia was referred to Aspire for Supported Employment Services at our Primus campus. Through these services, she learned work readiness skills and was assisted with completing job applications. After transitioning to the Terrell-Lee campus, she began working with a job coach eventually interviewed for some jobs. In 2020, Lakeyzia was hired as a busser at a local restaurant.
Lakeyzia is a 28-year-old who had not allowed an intellectual disability diagnosis and speech impediment stop her from pursuing her dreams. She is a perfect example of someone who has connected to her community, gained employment, and built relationships. One Aspire IDD Manager shared, “Lakeyzia is a happy person; she is always smiling and in a good mood. She is social and enjoys her friends.” Like most young adults, she enjoys playing video games, talking on the telephone, and spending time with her boyfriend.
“I wish I had 10 of Lakeyzia! She is always an hour early to work. She is AMAZING, SWEET and ALWAYS SMILING!” is the report given by local employer. Lakeyzia is a strong self-advocate. She does not hesitate to share that she is dedicated and a hard worker. She is comfortable with telling others what needs she has and what she wants to achieve in life. Through hard-work and determination, Lakeyzia is striving to increase her independence and work toward her dream of working at a daycare center.
Through partnership with Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Services and WISE, Lakeyzia was selected for the State of Georgia Supported Employment Video Story Project. She shared some life lessons that she has learned, “I can do anything I put my mind to and there are people who want to help me succeed!”
Lakeyzia wants everyone to know that her mother, Jenny Stephens, Kathy Revell and Victoria M. Jones have been dedicated to helping her reach of goal of finding a job that she loves. “They are my team!” She also shared, “I want people to know that it is important to follow your heart, never give up and with God, you’re not alone.”
Maegan Culp Cannon
“If you would told me 4 years ago that I would be telling my story of hope and recovery, I would have laughed at you. I had already decided at that time that I was going to die an addict – that would be my story. Here lies Maegan, a great girl, but she was troubled and couldn’t find her way, was what replayed in my head about what they would say at my funeral. It was a place of total loneliness, brokenness, and hopelessness. I had become a person that not only everyone else, but even myself did not recognize. At 22 years old, I was in full blown active addiction, an abusive relationship, and had abandoned everything that was ever important to me, including my daughter. I believed for the longest that I was a good mother – I tried at least. The worst part was that the person I had become was the total opposite of who I was meant to be. I was raised by loving and supportive parents, a police officer none the less – a happy children that some would only dream about.
Then it happened – an overdose. I truly believed that I would be the one person that it would never happen to. Granted all the times I had tried to intentionally end my life and it never did, I believed I was the exception.
During this time, I couldn’t keep a job, was arrested, charged with possession, spent months in jail. It was there that I met the women that ignited my desire to live! I was released on August 15, 2017, and that is the day I first walked into Aspire Behavioral Health – the place where my hope would be restored. The entire team, from front desk to nurses truly believe in recovery! I was admitted to the Dougherty County Drug Court program, began the SAIOP groups at Aspire and graduated in February 2018. I knew that Aspire was the place I wanted to work and became a Certified Peer Specialist in March of 2018. I will never forget how badly I wanted to work at Aspire. I chased our CEO, Dana Glass, down the hallway to introduce myself – and started working in Crisis.
Today, I am the person I truly believe I was always meant to be. I have been employed for over 3 years – something I never thought was possible. I have gone on to obtain my Certified Peer Specialist – Forensic, Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist, and my Bachelor’s degree. In May of 2022, I will graduate with my MASTER’s degree and be eligible to become a licensed counselor to continue to help others that are still trapped in the disease of addiction.
My daughter never has to wonder whether or not Mommy is coming home. Not only my daughter, but the other beautiful 4 children I have been blessed with through a marriage to a wonderful and supportive partner! I get to be Maegan today – a person full of happiness and life. I will be eternally grateful to Aspire for helping me realize that recovery is possible – after all, I am living proof!
“I can remember back in 2019 when I was attending Aspire PSR/PEER, every staff was trying to teach me life skills such as ways to handle stress and anxiety. I would never listen to the coping skills and interventions which was being taught in groups and I ended up going back and forth to crisis. I was never happy with my life and felt as though nobody loved me. I felt lonely and down and out. I had thoughts of suicide and did not know how to be alone. I felt as though I was headed down a dark road to hell. I have been struggling with my mental health issues and have been a part of different Aspire programs since I was nine years of age. I also remember when I first got into Aspire Peer Support, I walked around with a mad attitude and was scared to talk to people.”
“Moving forward into 2020, things began to change. My medication was adjusted and I began to be able to focus and listen to what Aspire PSR/PEER and ACT team was suggesting to me. I began to believe in myself and use the coping skills to start living a full and independent lifestyle. I would use my support network to talk about my feelings and work through my struggles. I would take my medication as prescribed. Things began to level out for me and I began to enjoy life. I had heard of the Goodwill Career Center and went there to find out about any jobs or classes. I got involved in a work training program and attended the day program at Aspire PSR/PEER to use my time positively and not walk the streets of Albany. I got a part time job at Good Will which lasted for a few days and took a janitorial class at Albany Tech which landed me a temporary janitorial job. At the same time, I was getting ready to move into my own apartment, so I had to find a permanent job to pay bills. I did the footwork on the computer at Aspire Good Life Peer support and completed several online applications. Even though I was turned down for my first job application, I did not get discourage and continued to search for work and finally landed a job at McDonalds! This job turned out to be the right job because it is just across the street from my apartment.”
“My current goal is to get my GED. I still have my struggles at my apartment. I thank the Lord and my mom for keeping me out of crisis this long and letting me have a good life and a good job. My life has completed changed and I am so grateful to God that I am still a part of Good Life Peer. Because of the support and coping skills that I have learned at Aspire Good Life Peer, I have a new and happy life!”
Aspire staff that interact with Randy on a daily basis shared, “Randy is much more out spoken and outgoing! He has so much more insight of his mental health recovery and has shared his story with others in hopes to inspire and give back!” “Even though Randy states that he has grown mentally and is doing so much better, he remains humble giving God the glory!”
Randy has been able to maintain full time employment which has been a goal. While working full time, he continues to live independently, attend Good Life Peer/PSR with a grateful heart, and reach out to others within the group with a voice of inspiration!
At 21 years of age, Randy has learned to become a strong advocate for himself and mental health recovery. Over the past year, Randy has strengthened his relationship with his mother and continues to learn how to love himself and show respect to others. He understands while continuing to take his medication, attend doctors appointments, and utilize his support network and coping skills that he can have a full and meaningful life. When asked during a recent intervention about life Randy stated “I don’t know what my purpose exactly is in life, yet I know that I do have a purpose!”
The Georgia Recovers Project
The Georgia Recovers Project is a transformational campaign featuring 16 Georgia Recovery Ambassadors addressing the growing addiction epidemic. Under the leadership of Governor Brian Kemp and Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald, the Georgia Council for Substance Abuse has been granted and tasked with a substantial investment in a stigma-reduction campaign promoting the benefits recovery by showcasing citizens of Georgia who are living lives in long-term recovery.