Support group helps addicts move forward

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Recovering addict Jennifer Colon in a photo taken Thursday shows how much she has improved.

One glance at the newspaper will show that substance addiction is a hot topic. As the opioid epidemic surges nationwide, more avenues for treatment are popping up, including local counseling services through places like Crossroads Counseling and West Branch Drug and Alcohol.

But most recovering addicts will tell you, the struggle from all kinds of addiction is lifelong.

So what’s the next step for addicts who have completed the initial treatment?

Jennifer Colon, of Williamsport, offers another option as the executive director of Recovery Community Connection, a nonprofit organization designated by the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance.

“Once you’re done with the counseling, the probation and treatment, there’s not much out there,” Colon said. “This is really an effective tool to help battle stigma and give hope a face.”

Located at 1400 Market St., the support group helps educate its members and connect them with resources that will aid in their recovery. Recovery Community Connections are based on peer support and their boards primarily are made up of former addicts. Colon is one such board member.

Her drug of choice was crack cocaine and, in trying to treat abdominal issues with a pain prescription she was told would be safe, she also found herself with an addiction to opioids. Colon spent much of her life in and out of prison and lost her children to the system before finding herself finally ready to change with the help of the Lycoming County drug treatment court.

“I complained about everything for a long time,” she said. “I lost everything to this addiction. Everything you could possibly lose, I lost to addiction.”

Since the last time she was arrested on Jan. 29, 2012, Colon has worked hard to stay clean. She now works as a certified forensic peer specialist for the Community Services Group and cares for her mentally and physically handicapped sister. She also is a part-time student seeking a human services degree from Pennsylvania College of Technology.

However, Google Colon’s name and that’s not the kind of information that will come up. Her past crimes and reports of her addiction sometimes keep her from getting a job or experiencing other benefits. Such is true for many with a criminal history, she said.

“I’ve never been in the paper for something good. But I’m going to give my Googled name a run for its money with what I do now,” Colon said. “I’m not my Googled name. I’m not my criminal history.”

Colon and many other members of the group started training to become certified recovery specialists in July, meaning they will be certified to support and coach their peers through recovery. There is a peer-to-peer recovery session from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Monday that is open to everyone, followed by a women-only Women for Sobriety positive thinking group from 6 to 7 p.m.

This month, the group will roll out two new programs. Saturday will bring the area’s first Cocaine Anonymous support group meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. Starting at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11, there will be a Recovery Readers reading group at the James V. Brown Library. The programs will continue every Saturday and Friday, respectively.

Colon said the peer-based groups help those who attend to open up, break down stigma and see each other as human.

“We’re teachable,” she said. “I made mistakes in recovery. People have this thing where they think they have to be perfect but it’s not about that. It’s about progress and being teachable.”

Unfortunately the small space on Market Street doesn’t lend itself well to group meetings and activities, and people with physical disabilities struggle to maneuver the building, Colon said. She hopes to find a more centrally-located building that will accommodate the group’s needs so it can provide better support in its goal of helping former addicts be productive, healthy and happy members of society.

“All we can do is keep trying to show that people do recover,” she said.