About 300 people attended the appreciation luncheon where the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADM) Services Board paid tribute to local trailblazers. Those who received Trailblazer Awards include: TESTA Companies, Judge Annalisa Stubbs Williams, Dr. Nicole Labor, and Reba McCray.
In 2007, the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADM) Services Board established awards in honor of five individuals who are recognized as being trailblazers and advocates in the mental health and addiction services field. This award process is intended not only to honor the original trailblazers which included Drs. Fred and Penny Frese, Maggie Carroll Smith, Sr. Mary Ignatia and Dr. Bob Smith, but also to provide a forum to recognize individuals who emulate their example and service.
The Maggie Carroll Smith Award
The 2016 Maggie Carroll Smith Award this year goes to TESTA Companies for their innovative work in developing recovery housing options in our community.
For over 25 years, Paul Testa and his family’s compassion for individuals stigmatized by others has been manifested in their business and personal lives. In the early 90’s, he developed Harmony Place, an apartment complex providing supportive services for individuals with HIV and AIDS, at a time when AIDS was still considered a death sentence. This has led him to a deeper calling, to help those who have special needs incorporated into housing.
Paul participated in the Corporation for Supported Housing’s Supportive Housing Institute, where he demonstrated a deep understanding and empathy for those with mental health challenges such as hoarding, schizophrenia, and homelessness. The result of this experience was a partnership he developed with Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, Community Support Services, and National Church Residences to develop Madaline Park I & II, two affordable and supported housing complexes serving veterans, individuals who have addictions, and mental health difficulties.
All of those housed at the Commons are homeless and in need of a stable place to regain their footing in life. Paul has created this housing with many of the same amenities he provides in other high-end housing. His philosophy is that those with disabilities and other life challenges are no less deserving and should be provided the opportunity to live in the same type of housing that any one of us would choose to live.
More recently, Paul and his son Joel started the Formerly Homeless Foundation, a nonprofit that provides assistance to the homeless and aims to educate the public about who they are. They have hosted dinners for homeless individuals and contributed in many ways to ease the burden of those who, for very complex reasons, find themselves homeless. He has provided dignity and value to the lives of those who are often invisible, but also viewed negatively by the greater community. It is for these reasons and more that Testa Companies are recipients of the 2016 Maggie Carroll Smith Trailblazer Award.
Drs. Fred and Penny Frese Award
This year’s award recipient is Summit County Municipal Court Judge Annalisa Stubbs Williams. Judge Williams is an innovative and effective leader and advocate for the community. She has been a pioneer in creating programs to reduce recidivism, to assist with treatment needs and to preserve resources. Championing the concept of “therapeutic jurisprudence” is her way of recognizing and demonstrating that there are many instances when treatment is preferable to incarceration, especially when the issues resulting in court involvement stem from untreated addiction or mental illness.
Judge Williams has presided over the Mental Health court since 2005. During that time, the program was selected as one of five learning site models by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Council of State Governments. In 2014, the court received a three-year certification by the Ohio Supreme Court, solidifying its role in treating those who have behaviors that are often attributed to untreated mental illnesses that land them in the criminal justice system. In 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court appointed Williams as a member of the Commission on Specialized Dockets to oversee certification of other problem-solving courts.
Williams was an advocate for the expansion of the Mental Health Court to include individuals found eligible for the Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) program. FACT is a collaboration between Community Support Services and Akron Municipal Court and works with those who suffer with psychosis and have multiple episodes of involvement in the criminal justice system.
Judge Williams has also created a gender-specific program — Peace of Mind, which is for women on probation dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and trauma. Weekly, she engages with these women in a group setting as they learn new strategies for changing negative thoughts and behaviors to prevent returning to the criminal justice system.
Judge Williams is extensively involved with the Summit County Campaign to Change Direction, which raises awareness of the five signs that a person may be suffering emotional distress. She has served in an advisory capacity for the initial kick-off and has remained involved through the ongoing activities of the faith-based subcommittee.
Sr. Ignatia Trailblazer Award
Dr. Nicole Labor was nominated in recognition of the leadership, dedication and compassion she has shown to people struggling with addiction. Dr. Labor is the Associate Director of Addiction Medicine at Summa Health System. Her accomplishments are many, and her impact on the ADM system and our community is broad.
She most likely sees patients inside the hospital when they are at their lowest points in life, treating them through detox and throughout Summa’s hospitals. Just like all of us, her resources can be spread thin, doing more with less, seeing more patients than ever before that are struggling with addiction.
In addition, Dr. Labor continues her work with other agencies in and around Summit County. She uses her position to be a voice for addicts, educating and advocating for this cause and truly filling a void in healthcare education. She has presented to scores of individuals about the disease model of addiction. Her presentations debunk the “moral failings” attitudes that are often imposed on addicts. She does this by sharing the knowledge she has to teach others in a clear and convincing way that addiction really is… a disease.
Dr. Labor has spoken at both of the first 2 annual opiate-related conferences sponsored by the ADM Board, Oriana House, and NEOMED, in 2014 and 2015. She will speak again on November 5, 2016 at the 3rd Annual conference on Current Concepts in Integrated Health Care on understanding the neurobiology of the addicted brain.
Dr. Labor also uses her own lived experience to provide an added depth to her presentations. She describes the underlying and most important part of recovery, learning to use recovery supports available in any given community to rebuild broken lives, and her personal story of addiction and recovery serves as a message of hope to all who are working their own recovery journeys. Her commitment to treating, helping and advocating for addicts makes her not only deserving but similar to Sister Ignatia. And, like Sister Ignatia, Dr. Labor continues to inspire and uplift those with addictions with hope and compassion.
Dr. Bob Smith Trailblazer award
Those honored with the Dr. Bob Smith Trailblazer award are known for offering hope and inspiring change in others. Reba McCray's motto is "leave a little sparkle wherever you go" and she more than demonstrates this tenet every day. Besides being one of the first Recovery Coaches in this county, she operates a sober living facility and ministry, has served on the Opiate Task Force, and speaks out on behalf of addicts to the media and our state and national politicians. Reba mentors others with a loving, no-nonsense approach to facing and overcoming life's challenges in recovery. Reba is quick to smile and has an infectious laugh, but is deadly serious in the battle against addiction.
Reba is, as she publicly acknowledges, a recovering heroin addict herself. It is difficult to picture this tiny, soft-spoken, healthy yoga-practicing runner as someone who struggled to get off of heroin, and later, methadone. She has often said that she could do treatment and confinement well, but things fell apart once she was released and left to her own devices.
Reba says that sober living facilities work because they offer a whole community, not just a place to live. The same community that embraced her now embraces others who are seeking long-term recovery.
Until recently, Reba worked at Oriana House Inc. as its Lead Recovery Coach Supervisor, training and mentoring dozens of other recovery coaches who are involved in all of the programs offered by the agency as well as assisting in the establishment of Oriana's own sober living facility, the Frederick Avenue Apartments. Reba ensured that each recovery coach was well-trained and 'sparkled' in their jobs while bringing hope, rigorous honesty, and compassion to addicts. The methods and standards that she put in place will be in use for a long time to come.
A second nomination for Reba reads: I have been in the same church community with Reba for over 8 years and worked closely with her for the last 3 years at our church’s ARC Recovery Services Women’s House. I see first-hand her unwavering dedication to all of the women that have come through the house. Those who hear Reba’s story know that recovery is possible. Reba has devoted her life to helping the newly recovered and effectively demonstrates that recovery is possible and real.