Monday, February 04, 2019

Handed the Torch: Changing Seasons and Advocacy Coordinators

 2018 was been a busy year for our NCADD-NJ Advocacy Teams, and looking ahead to the coming year we have no plans for stopping the momentum.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their warm welcome as I adjust to the role of Advocacy Coordinator. As an NCADD-NJ Advocate for 6 years, I knew that Aaron Kucharski had made a tremendous impact on countless advocates across the state, myself included, and that taking over his role would be a large task. My background and experience in addiction and recovery have prepared me well for this position, and it is an honor to continue working with a program that has played such a pivotal role in developing a recovery-ready New Jersey.

Six years ago I was introduced to NCADD-NJ through a training held at Living Proof Recovery Center in Voorhees, NJ. I was an employee at LPRC (one of 3 employees at the time: today there are more than 12), that helped plan and launch the second state-funded, peer-led recovery center in the state. Part of my job was to book recovery-oriented events, and a training entitled “Our Stories Have Power” was one of them. This training was a major turning point in my own recovery, and in my professional path.

I approached Aaron after the training to thank him and to let him know what a profound impact the last 2 hours had on me.  I asked him directly: “How do I get your job?” We laughed about it then, and we continue to laugh about it today. This introduction to advocacy, and the power of language in recovery, woke something up inside me. It would send me on a journey that culminated in receiving the answer to the question I asked Aaron 6 years ago.

Since entering the recovery field, I have held various positions that have prepared me for a launch into full time advocacy work. I spent several years with a Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team, where we assisted people with mental illness/addiction diagnoses directly in their communities and homes. When the OORP (Opioid Overdose Recovery Program) grants were distributed I launched the program in Gloucester County, and oversaw expansion into 2 additional hospitals in Camden County, bringing the number of programs in the county to 3. I returned to school and was trained as an addictions counselor, and have worked in this capacity at several treatment facilities in New Jersey. I am a trainer in SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment), as well as a certified trainer for the CPRS (Certified Peer Recovery Specialist) certification in New Jersey. My recovery has been blessed with these opportunities to become a well-rounded addictions professional; these experiences also have shown me the many gaps in services, education, and opportunities available for those in, and seeking, recovery, as well as their families. I bring a slightly different perspective to our Advocacy Program, but I hope to be able to use my experiences to assist our Advocacy Teams in addressing the issues within their communities.

The power of grassroots advocacy cannot be denied. When I started as an NCADD-NJ Advocate, our primary focus was getting police to carry naloxone, and to get rid of the statute that prohibited EMTs from administering the same medication. It is hard to believe that this was a mere 6 years ago. We have come a long way, but must recognize that there is still much to be done.


Heather Ogden
Advocacy Coordinator Public Affairs and Policy

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - New Jersey