What does the path to becoming a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate (CRPA) look like?  Where do CRPAs work, and what do they do?  This month Recovery Talk interviewed Fred Gaston, CRPA to highlight one person’s journey.


Mr. Gaston is a person in long-term recovery and an active member of the recovery community.  He began his recovery journey in 2003 as a resident at Insight House (Long Term Residential Treatment) in Utica, NY.  Upon leaving treatment he knew that staying connected to others in Recovery would be critical to sustaining his own.


As such, Mr. Gaston took it upon himself to “rehab” an old warehouse in Utica and created “Life Quest,” his own proto type of a Recovery Community Center.  He outfitted Life Quest with comfy couches, musical instruments and quiet rooms for one on one conversations and it soon became a place where people in recovery could “hang out”, play music and talk to someone who was already solid in their own recovery program.

For five years, Life Quest was open three days a week. Staffed by two or three volunteers from the recovery community, the center served up to 70 people on any given day.  It even housed a store room full of donated furniture that could be distributed to people leaving residential treatment programs.  According to Mr. Gaston, “It was a way for people to give back on many levels.”


To build upon his innate ability to connect with people (and with funding from Insight House), Gaston took the Recovery Coach Academy (30 Hour Recovery Coach) training facilitated by Betty Currier and Patty Corbet Ward in 2010.  He enjoyed the training immensely, but tells us that at the time he didn’t do much with it, other than continue to volunteer at Life Quest.

Fred says that, as there were no jobs available, after Life Quest closed he took a short hiatus from the field.  He returned about a year ago when Insight House approached him about developing a Peer to Peer program.

As too much time had lapsed since he took the original RCA, to apply for certification he had to take the course again.  Lucky for us at FOR-NY, because that’s where we met him!

Fred completed the required 500 hours of experience and 25 hours of supervision by working and volunteering at Insight House.  He then took an on-line ethics course and received his CRPA in January 2017.


Fred has since been hired as a Peer Advocate by Insight House, an OASAS licensed facility, to help develop their peer recovery program.  He has been helping to write policy, develop forms and co-create the specifics of the job.  He assisted in the development of a protocol for counselors to refer Recoverees to the program including guidelines for time frames and frequency of contacts.

Recoverees are referred from the outpatient or day rehabilitation programs and meet (in person or by telephone) with a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate once or twice each week in the beginning.  Some are scheduled appointments and some are “as needed.” The period of time a Recoveree stays with their advocate depends on how long the services are needed.


Fred tells us that he performs a variety of duties on any given day.  Some days may find him helping someone find employment, suitable living arrangements, appropriate housing or housewares.  On other days he’s supporting people’s recoveries by listening, seeing “where they’re at” and making practical suggestions based on his own experience.  Letting them know, “This is what worked for me” or “I’ve seen this work for others,” and allowing them to make their own decision.

Mr. Gaston emphasized how important it is for people to have someone to talk to in a non-clinical setting.  He told us about a recent meeting he had with a particular gentleman outdoors.  “We went for a walk and the faucet turned on.”  This gentleman was able to open up because he didn’t feel closed in, inside of a formal office setting.


A major role and responsibility of a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate is to serve as a resource broker and help people build recovery capital.  Fred tells us that he makes face to face connections and in-person visits to the many places he refers people to — food pantries, childcare agencies, clothing repositories, etc.  While there, he picks up pamphlets and leaves behind information about what he does. He says, “I knock on their door to see what they do, before referring someone there.”


Fred also emphasizes the importance of having fun in recovery and developing healthy leisure time skills to his “coach-ees.”  As a musician himself, he uses music as part of his coaching practice.  In fact, he’s currently organizing a drug and alcohol free music festival this summer called “Strawberry Jam.” It’s scheduled for July 8th at Chancellor Park in Utica.  He tells us there will be activities for the whole family, live music, and time to jam.  So bring your instruments!


When asked what he likes the most about being a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate, Fred tells us that he likes the ability to be in contact with other recoverees outside of the clinical setting and to truly meet someone where they are at, literally!  He says that his recoverees “don’t have to come to a building, a group or a counselor. They feel comfortable talking with a peer who is not going to tell them how to live their life.”

Fred also added “being a true peer and being a guide for others is a definite positive in my own recovery.  When I help them get better, I get better.”

Thank you Fred for spending time with us so that we can share your story with our readers.  We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing more about your new program and all that you are doing to promote recovery in the community!