Last week, hundreds of people arrived at the Marriott for the 3rd annual NYS Recovery Conference. This conference is unique, even among those addressing the public health pandemic of addiction. As one attendee who has been in the treatment field for years said, “I’ve never been so excited by a conference. There is such an air of celebration here – such hope and connection! I feel empowered to be a part of this movement!”
The reason for his and others’ excitement is that in the course of three days, presenters as well as attendees shared their expertise in ways that demonstrated the effectiveness of peer support, and the value of creating public policies and practices that promote peer support as a critical and effective strategy for building recovery. Every aspect of the conference reflected its’ theme: The Journey to Recovery Wellness: Home, Health, Community, and Purpose. The conference program presented information about the many pathways that are possible to walk on the recovery journey. The three-day event gathered many of the most notable experts on addiction and recovery in New York State and the nation to serve as our keynote speakers, panelists, and presenters.
Youth Voices Matter – New York (YVM-NY) kicked off the Pre-Conference with a strategic planning session for young people. FOR-NY Board President Chacku Mathai and OASAS General Counsel Rob Kent welcomed the youth to the event, while YVM-NY Leaders DJ Rhodes, Carlee Hulsizer and Joseph Davis facilitated discussions of where the youth recovery movement in New York State is headed. Cyclists from ROCovery Fitness and Exercise Express, who made the historic 370 mile Recovery Ride to the conference, were greeted by cheering attendees and media. The Pre-Conference Institute brought over 200 peer professionals together to network and connect the multiple pathways to recovery with recovery language and stories. Breakout sessions involved rigorous discussion on peer empowerment and wellness, building recovery capital and addressing infrastructure needs, peer professionalism, as well as barriers to successful recovery. A networking event for trainers and peer professionals sparked a robust conversation around the future of the peer professional movement.
Keynote presenters Andre Johnson (Detroit Recovery Project) and Phil Valentine (CCAR) spoke passionately about their personal recovery stories and how recovery propelled them into national contributions to the recovery movement. OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez reflected on her vision of New York as a national trend-setter and shared her vision for the future. The Commissioner also presented the coveted Commissioner’s Award at the 15th Annual Arts Festival. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Hochul gave a moving address in which she described the heartbreak of parents who have lost children to addiction and the need to continue to work aggressively to combat the addiction crisis. Tony Redhouse brought healing dance through Native American Cultural Symbolism, and Chris Grosso outlined Indi Spiritualism as a pathway to recovery. Assistant Mental Health Secretary Shelly Weitzman shared her experience as a member of the Governor’s Executive Team and her commitment to continue her advocacy efforts on our behalf. OASAS General Counsel Rob Kent brought the conference to a close with a rallying call to action that we continue the successful advocacy efforts that have brought us thus far.
Conference attendees participated in robust discussions with panelists on employment, harm reduction, recovery housing, workplace wellness, recovery coaching, faith-based community involvement, gambling, food and sex addiction, holistic health and wellness, telephone and text peer support, community asset mapping, and grief healing, to name a few. A special panel on ER Protocols received significant media attention and was facilitated by Lori Drescher, with Dr. Patrick O’Connor of the Yale School of Medicine, Mark O’Brian from the Addiction Policy Forum, Meghan Hetfield from CAPE, Sue Martin from RAIS/FOR-CE, and Rob Kent (OASAS General Counsel). The conference’s impact was enriched by the many presenters, and participants who shared their collective expertise. These brave women and men confirmed the power and promise of recovery from addiction and its value to individuals, families and communities throughout New York State and the nation. And they did so, because they know that recovery is the antidote to addiction.
I am profoundly grateful to Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez, our friends in the Legislature, and our partners at OASAS who believe in the value of recovery and are expanding resources and support for our community. I would also like to express my gratitude to Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP) and the New York State Certification Board (NYSCB) for their dedication, collaboration and partnership – and for working with us to create this event.
I especially wish to thank our sponsors – including OASAS, Long Island Center for Recovery (LICA), Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), Truetox Laboratories, American Addiction Centers, Cornerstone, Long Island Recovery Association (LIRA), Jiffy Journal and the Jordan Peer Recovery, and to our many exhibitors for their support.
I would be remiss if I did not express my profound gratitude to the FOR-NY Board of Directors – Joe Turner who passed the BOD Presidential baton to Chacku Mathai, Deb Rhoades. Dona Pagon, Ed Olson, Eric Dyer – as well as the incredible staff at FOR-NY (Theresa Knorr, Allison Weingarten, Shana Kaplanov and Debbie Brosen), Sherry LaFontain from ASAP, and Elizabeth Kransen from NYSCB who all worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this conference.
Our deepest appreciation to all the committee members who helped plan the program, secure sponsors and exhibitors and market the events was essential to the success of the conference. Many thanks to the dozens of volunteers who donated their time to staff this event. This includes Kristin Hoin, Kellie Roe, and the amazing team that secured donations for the Raffle (without you this would not have been possible). And to T.K. Rabii who gave a huge hand with Social Media during the conference. Witnessing the turnout reminds me that the recovery community in New York State is committed to the mission and vision of celebrating the power and promise of recovery, and that we are a community of consequence.
On behalf of FOR-NY’s Board of Directors, ASAP and NYSCB, we are deeply grateful to the rich and diverse group of individuals and family members in Recovery, allies, and professionals from across New York State who joined us in celebrating The Journey to Recovery Wellness: Home, Health, Community and Purpose. We hope this conference serves as a well-spring of inspiration and resources for the upcoming year. If you weren’t able to make it this year, we hope to see you at the 4th NYS Recovery Conference. In the meanwhile, FOR-NY is dedicated to continuing our mission in supporting your efforts to build recovery capital in the Empire State.