Rotarians can make a big impact on addiction crisis

By Alison Webb

If you want to know how to bring people together and create connections, just ask a Rotarian.

“Rotary brings people from the community together every week. I can’t think of another organization that has that kind of reach.” That’s the message Lisa Hallee, a member of the Waterville Rotary Club, wants people to hear.

When Hallee moved to Cape Elizabeth this year, she started attending the Portland Rotary Club, and that’s where she heard Gordon Smith, Gov. Janet Mills’ Director of Opioid Response, speak about the state’s opioid epidemic. His words hit home: Hallee’s nephew died from an opioid drug overdose earlier this year.

Hallee joined the District 7780 Recovery Initiative Committee (serving Southern and Eastern Maine and parts of New Hampshire), which organizes seminars that educate the community about opioids, overdose and stigma; supports education in public schools; and raises money to train recovery coaches. “It’s the usual Rotary stuff (bringing people together to find solutions),” Hallee says with pride.

Hallee is now working with Rotary District 7790 (serving Central and Northern Maine and Quebec) By Alison Jones Webb on a districtwide conference on opioids. Its goal is to educate Rotarians about opioids and substance use disorder so that they understand that the crisis relates directly to them even if they don’t know someone personally affected, and so they can play an important role in responding.

Susan Gross, a member of the York Rotary Club, agrees that Rotarians need to be well-informed. When asked what Rotarians can do, she’s quick to respond:

“Rotarians can learn, be informed about substance use disorder. They need to be aware of the problem, as well as solutions,” Gross says. That includes bringing speakers to weekly meetings to talk about recovery and how to support people seeking help or who are already in recovery, and that can spark discussions within their own clubs about the problems – and solutions – in their communities.

“Rotarians can talk about their own experiences, as recovery allies and family members,” Gross adds. By openly sharing their personal stories, they start to reduce stigma, break down barriers for people to seek help, and create empathy and support.

That was Hallee’s experience when she shared her nephew’s story at a Waterville Rotary Club meeting. “There was an outpouring of support,” she says.

Rotarians need to know about recovery support services in their communities and then promote and publicize them, says Lisa Robertson, director of York Community and Adult Education. The “Making Change Support Group” in York is one such recovery support service. With help from Choose to be Healthy, a longstanding prevention coalition in the area, some federal funds, the York Public Library, and pizza donated by local pizza shops, the support group was launched earlier this year.

“When you see an opportunity, you take it,” Robertson says. “We wanted to make ourselves resources for people interested in changing their substance use.”

The group is for people interested in making positive changes in their lives and is led by a trained group facilitator who helps create a judgment-free zone where participants can share experiences, set goals and seek support from peers. The group has been a success, with regular attendance each week.

“Rotarians can help get the word out about this support group to fellow Rotarians,” Robertson says, adding that they also can help by sharing information with family members, neighbors and friends and volunteer by giving people rides to class.

Rotary connections are important to Sue LoBosco, too. She’s part of the Recovery Initiative Committee in Southern Maine, and as a social worker, she uses her committee connections to learn about treatment and other services to help clients, many of whom are women with substance use disorder. “There is this amazing network that I can share with my
clients and their families,” she says

LoBosco sees big changes ahead, and Rotary will be a part of them. Like Hallee, she hopes Rotary clubs across Maine will come together to develop a statewide program designed to educate, raise] awareness and inspire others to seek solutions in their communities to support people in recovery.
Eventually, because Rotarians are part of so many sectors – business, education, social services – she envisions major systems changes in the way recoverysupport services are delivered.

“Rotary moves mountains,” LoBosco says. Like Rotary International’s We wanted to make ourselves resources for people interested in changing their
substance use. Alison Jones Webb is a public health professional who has worked in the field of substance use prevention, treatment and recovery in Maine for over 15 years. initiative to eradicate polio worldwide, she thinks Rotarians can take the opioid initiative beyond Maine to the international level by working with Rotary clubs in Canada and other countries.

It all starts in the community, though. People in recovery live in every community in Maine. Rotarians are everywhere, too, and these initiatives are deepening their connections with their communities. As Hallee puts it, “The world of Rotary and recovery are not that far apart.”

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