SPRINGFIELD — The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) recently announced two new rounds of grants totaling more than $1 million from the organization’s COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley. The funds were awarded to local nonprofits, including $25,000 to the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA), to address immediate mental-health and substance-use recovery needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“MHA will use this generous grant to serve individuals in early recovery who are at higher risk of relapse due to isolation that is resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sara Kendall, vice president of Clinical Operations for MHA. “The traditional approach to early recovery support emphasizes a great deal of social connectivity, but today we must find innovative ways to provide those supports in a world where we also need to respect social distancing.”
Kendall emphasized that MHA’s approach would change the way individuals in recovery are able to connect with recovery systems.
“Typically, recovery communities are very much about in-person support, meeting new people, and becoming part of a fellowship and a community, and now people new to recovery are losing that opportunity due to social distancing,” she said. “Folks new to recovery would work side-by-side with recovery coaches, go to meetings together, work together on résumés, and go to find jobs, but how do you do that in this new way? We’re innovating with MHA’s Noah Witt and Dallas Clark, who are both certified recovery coaches.”
The CFWM grant enables the MHA guides to serve up to 20 individuals in early recovery for three months. Guides utilize MHA’s TeleWell telehealth app, which enables face-to-face virtual interaction via smartphone, tablet, or computer. In cases where interaction in person is warranted, and as Massachusetts reopening protocols permit, it is possible for MHA guides to meet clients in person, using social-distancing protocols and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, either at MHA’s BestLife Emotional Health and Wellness Center or in the community.
“Under state guidelines for meetings in person, MHA Recovery Coaches will be able to sit with an individual for coaching, to work on their wellness plan together, or to identify and pursue goals like updating a résumé, finding a job using the internet, or securing a state-issued ID,” Kendall explained. “The ability of an individual to engage with their coach is so important, and the CFWM grant comes at a time of heightened need due to the forced isolation wrought by COVID-19. We’re thrilled to be able to offer more folks in early recovery the opportunity to work with a peer who has been where they are now and moved ahead successfully in their own recovery.”
Recovery coaches are currently providing group-support recovery meetings for those living at GRIT, MHA’s Residential Rehabilitation Services program for adults with a co-occurring mental-health and substance-use disorder. MHA’s goal is to also offer access to these meetings to members of the recovery community as the state’s phased opening protocols allow.
“The feeling of being connected while moving ahead in recovery is very important, and so much more likely to bear fruit when people are able to retain those social connections over time,” Kendall said. “Being isolated by COVID-19 has made that very challenging, and access to recovery coaching enabled by the CFWM grant will provide that support and hope folks need to move ahead successfully in their individual paths of recovery.”