The Vermont Recovery Network is one of the nation’s premier statewide peer-recovery systems. This system of local community recovery centers began as a grassroots movement, and through advocacy and promise of its potential, grew into a significant part of Vermont’s continuum of care, the prevention, treatment, and recovery partnerships that offer support and solutions to its population struggling with substance abuse. Recovery centers were funded to help people find recovery, maintain recovery, prevent relapse, and, return to recovery when relapse happened. These local, consumer-driven, nonresidential facilities would provide peer supports, sober recreation activities, volunteer opportunities, and community education. They would help people of all ages, genders, and cultures maintain alcohol-free and drug-free lifestyles and improve their quality of life.
Vermonters could visit these centers to find a sympathetic ear and information about recovery and substance-abuse services in a safe, drug-free and alcohol-free environment. Recovery centers would welcome anyone, no matter what recovery lifestyle they chose—12 step, abstinence based; faith based; medication-assisted or other harm reduction recovery; moderation management; and various alternative supports. The peer workers simply supported whatever approach was proving successful for their guest, or accompanied the guest on a journey that would help them find a suitable path for their values and chosen lifestyle. Center services would be nonclinical and included connections to employment, housing, and social services.
The Vermont legislature began providing state funding in 2001 for the development of community-based nonprofit recovery centers, replicating the success of the original recovery center in White River Junction and the advocacy of its director, Mark Helijas. The legislature asked centers to develop boards having a majority of members who self-identified as people in recovery. Recovery centers would collect outcome data, while maintaining personal anonymity for center guests. Centers began tracking numbers of visits and numbers of recovery meetings held, and distributing participant surveys.
In 2006, representatives from the seven existing recovery centers approached the legislature requesting help with the development of recovery centers, boards, and recovery-support approaches. The legislature created and funded the Vermont Recovery Network, stipulating a representative executive council and the hiring of a network coordinator to coordinate between centers and the state. The new network chose Mark Ames as coordinator and Vermont Recovery Network (VRN) as the organization’s name. They defined the nonprofit’s purpose: “The Vermont Recovery Network is dedicated to supporting and connecting efforts that provide recovery support services.”
In 2012, the VRN responded to a legislative request to develop program standards; the centers collaborated to develop these standards, which led to increased based funding based on the promising practices the centers provided. Today, the Vermont has 12 peer-run recovery centers, 9 of which are currently part of the VRN with the three additional centers offering peer-based recovery services and supports independently. Consistency of service and collaboration continue among the 12 centers through ongoing affiliate meetings including the state and key partners.
The network founders wanted recovery centers to foster the selfless acts of service those in recovery traditionally have offered to people considering the life changes known as recovery. People who have evolved to become positive, less self-absorbed, optimistic, and realistic about the degradation they experienced before finding recovery feel an obligation to share these gifts with others seeking recovery. The evolving network strives to maintain the magic and effectiveness of the recovery process that the 12-step recovery experience offers, capturing the essence of that recovery experience and making it attractive to people on all paths to recovery. Recovery values developed over the last 85 years, such as attraction, inclusion, anonymity, equality, and “keeping it simple,” have informed this work.
Sharing approaches for providing services, managing volunteer workforces, and providing volunteers with training led to the development of consensus on using a recovery-support approach based on listening, considering a person’s willingness to change, and asking motivating questions. Recovery values avoid telling anyone what to do and avoid any power differential between the persons providing and receiving recovery support. This process was accompanied by a growing commitment to providing uniform statewide services, so that what one experienced in one center would be consistent with what happened in another center. The advent of “recovery coaching” trainings, which were based on the same principles, led the Network to develop formal protocols for the provision of recovery coaching in recovery centers.