WCRC - A Grassroots Effort to Combat the Opiate Crisis
In the early months of 2018, there was a series of conversations taking place around the Sheriff’s Office. Some of those conversations were two people talking through ideas and some were small groups. I found myself often engaging with Major Ray Porter, our correctional administrator, about programming at the Reentry Center and how we could enhance the program. We often dragged Robyn Goff, the Program Manager at the Reentry Center, into our conversations which inevitably put our conversations into high gear. Dr. Tim Hughes would often join us for many of these conversations, which injected an irrepressible spirit of optimism into every conversation. All we needed was a spark, and for me, that spark came when I received a telephone call from an old friend, Chief Bill Labombarde of the Waldoboro Police Department.
When Bill and I spoke I could tell he had an unusually upbeat tone in his voice. He began telling me about some meeting he was attending and he insisted that I had to travel to Waldoboro to see what was happening for myself. Bill described a meeting, held from 7:00 am to 8:00 am, once a week. In attendance, he explained was himself, Bill Ellsworth, a drug and alcohol counselor, probation officer Anthony Prest and members from the community that were in recovery, seeking recovery or who simply needed support. I wasn’t sure what Bill was so excited about but thought it certainly was worth an early morning trip to Waldoboro to find out.
When I arrived at the meeting location, in the early morning hours, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Soon Bill Ellsworth arrived and began setting up the meeting space for the folks that were piling in. Bill was contracted by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office to provide counseling to Lincoln County inmates located at the Two Bridges Regional Jail. Bill held support meetings inside the facility and had decided that he should hold similar support meetings in the community to provide a continuum of support for those who had been released from custody. His meetings in Wiscasset had become so well attended that the decision was made to expand the meetings to other areas of the county, resulting in the Waldoboro meeting. The meeting kicked off with Bill Ellsworth conducting a short reading and conversation ensued. As I looked around the room, I took inventory of the unusual make-up of the attendees. There were about 14 people in attendance, and they were a mix of people, some in recovery, some on probation, some looking for advice and support, but all of them doing so in a room with their local Chief of Police, Probation Officer, and a drug counselor present. I was struck by the honesty of those in attendance and the nonjudgmental environment of the entire meeting. When the meeting closed, several attendees spoke off to one side of the room discussing someone who had missed the meeting. I could hear the genuine concern of the small group as they formulated a plan for who would reach out to the missing party to check on their wellbeing. I wasn’t sure why such a diverse group was connecting with and supporting one another so well, but it was clear that this was something unique and powerful.
After the meeting ended Bill Ellsworth explained that his work with the individuals in the jail and community was an extension of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and a collaboration of community partners that had formed to address the opioid crisis. I quickly got my hands on a copy of the memorandum of understanding the collaborative had created to formalize their partnership and recognized that this was what our small group in Waldo County needed to take our conversations to the next level.
When I returned to Waldo County I could not wait to share the story about what I had just experienced. I sat with Sheriff Trafton, Major Porter, Robyn, and Tim and shared what I had witnessed and everyone quickly agreed that we had found the next step in our journey.
Our irregular meetings transformed into weekly meetings as we pulled together representatives from some key community partners. Soon we had representatives from The Sheriff’s Office, Volunteers of America, the Restorative Justice Project, Maine Probation and Parole, Greater Bay Area Ministerium and Seaport Community Health attending our meetings. In June of 2018, representatives from each of the organizations gathered to sign a pledge to work collaboratively to address eleven strategic goals surrounding the opiate crisis and strengthening the recovery community within Waldo County. On June 14th, 2018 the Waldo County Recovery Committee was formed.
One of our first goals was to establish a community support meeting, similar to the one I had attended in Waldoboro. We utilized John Fitzgeralds, the Reentry Center’s drug and alcohol counselor as the meeting facilitator and Robyn spoke with members of the local faith community resulting in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Belfast offering us space every Tuesday morning from 7 am to 8 am for our weekly meetings. Our meetings attracted a steady attendance by members of the Sheriff’s Office, Probation Office, Restorative Justice, the addiction treatment community and a wide variety of community members. We have had a group of men from the Reentry Center attend and an assortment of community members, some in recovery, some are the family or loved ones affected by addiction and some simply are looking for the support of their community. During my time attending these meetings I have learned why the Waldoboro meeting, and our meeting have such a devoted following of attendees. In these meetings, which are conducted in the form of a restorative justice circle, we share, eliminate stigma, connect, build relationships, friendships, share our stories and build community. Something indescribable happens when we sit with others and the only intention is to support and add value to one another’s lives.
Since its creation, the Waldo County Recovery Committee’s membership and mission has expanded. Our mission has grown beyond its original focus on the opiate crisis and now includes exploring and expanding diversion from incarceration programs and finding better ways to handle the interactions between law enforcement and those with mental health. Organizations attending our meetings have grown to include members of the Community Addiction and Mental Health Solutions (CAMS), area churches, employment specialists, social service organizations, behavioral health agencies, medical treatment facilities, Waldo CAP, homelessness coalition members and so many more.
The faithful weekly attendees have collaborated on a number of projects, producing results that individually, we would have been unlikely to accomplish. We have broken down barriers to collaboration, filled gaps in services, created relationships that better serve vulnerable clients and create lasting friendships along the way.
I have many stories I want to share about the work we have accomplished and this blog post was meant to lay the groundwork for my next blog post. In my next post, I will share about how the Waldo County Recovery Committee was used as a foundation to obtain an HRSA grant for nearly a million dollars to combat the opiate crisis here in Waldo County. I explore how the grant funding is being utilized and how I believe it will enhance the operations of the Sheriff’s Office and better serve our community.