Strength through Connection: Advancing Careers in Recovery Through Personal Experience
Kristen Webster poses with her new backpack filled with helpful resources and supplies after completing the first-ever “Recovery Jobs for Beginners: A Guided Workshop Series” through MCD Global Health’s Rural Behavioral Health Workforce Center.
Living and raising her four children in the same house that she grew up in, Kristen Webster wants to give back to her small, rural community of Farmington, Maine.
She envisions starting a nonprofit that would focus on bringing recovery groups to Farmington to support community members who are in recovery, walk with them during their journey, and raise awareness about the struggles and benefits of recovery. In addition, she aims to break down stigma, which is a negative perspective toward individuals who are associated with specific behaviors, such as past drug use.
Webster feels more confident about achieving her goal after attending a recent workshop series and listening to speakers like Doug Dunbar, a recovery and re-entry workforce specialist at the Eastern Maine Development Corporation. Dunbar was a key faculty member involved in the first-ever “Recovery Jobs for Beginners: A Guided Workshop Series” through MCD Global Health (MCD)’s Rural Behavioral Health Workforce Center (RBHWC) that took place in August. Tailored for Maine residents who live in northern border counties, the four-part series is designed to accelerate entry into behavioral health careers.
“The workshop series was amazing! I have attended a lot of workshops in the past year, and I found this one to be super beneficial,” she said. “I can’t even tell you … what an incredible group of people, and, frankly, I can’t imagine that anyone didn’t enjoy the speakers they had. They chose a great variety of people and ended the workshop having us submit some goals that we were going to set for ourselves.”
Valerie Jackson (left), senior program manager at MCD, hands Kristen Webster (right), a backpack filled with resources to help her along her behavioral health career path after Webster completed the workshop.
Valerie Jackson, senior program manager of Workforce Development at MCD, helped facilitate and served as lead faculty at the workshop series. She describes the series as helping the participants “take the first steps” by addressing barriers, offering them resources and connections, giving them one-on-one support, and teaching them vital skills, such as developing action plans and practicing self-care along the way.
“It's all been such an honor. I learned from faculty and students alike, and with each story told or information shared, I felt more and more inspired,” Jackson said. “What came through for me every time was the students' bravery, and honesty, and eagerness to learn and contribute and move forward.”
As Jackson described, workshop participants developed career action plans, and Webster’s nonprofit idea was one of four goals that she developed.
“What was cool was that everyone could pick and choose what they wanted to take with them from the workshop and move forward and then create their own action plan,” Webster said.
Webster’s other ideas involved bringing more recovery support groups to Farmington, including a “recovery in nature or outdoor recovery” group that would bring people together while immersing themselves in nature and supporting one another. Another idea was a parenting in recovery support group that would include family members during the recovery process of a loved one.
“I was in my recovery process, and there are some huge challenges that surround that, and I’d like to share my story and let people know that your substance use does not mean that you can’t be an amazing parent,” Webster said. “It can be done; it wasn’t easy, and I faced some hurdles with that.”
By sharing her lived experience with substance use with others in the community, she feels as if she can support them as well as their families and friends during the process.
“I see that a lot of people in our rural area are really struggling with substance use, and the number of resources we have here is not plentiful,” she explained.
While in her mid-30s, she dealt with many personal challenges, including divorce and child custody issues. At the time, she felt she had little support because those around her did not understand how to “talk to people with substance use disorder (SUD).” To get through such times, she found a coping mechanism, which seemed to “work with [her] at the time until it didn’t.”
Webster said, “The truth of the matter is that [my family] saw me go through some pretty dark times. Showing it wasn’t pretty, but I had to go through it in order to get to where I am now, and I’m actually living the dream! I’m right where I’m supposed to be and am in the best mental and physical place possible.”
Being a Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR)-trained peer recovery coach and holding a bachelor’s in business economics from the University of Maine at Farmington, she recently started working as a Maine Recovery Core intern at the nonprofit Healthy Acadia. She works with several people with SUD (or “recoveries”) with whom she connects daily and walks beside them during their path to recovery. She also participates as a local facilitator through the international nonprofit SMART Recovery and SMART Recovery Friends & Family that includes support groups for those with SUD and family and friends of SUD.
“The effect that SUD has on others, any type of substance use, is not only the person who uses, but it is a family and friend disease, as well,” she explained.
Because of these reasons, Webster felt as if the “Recovery Jobs for Beginners Workshop Series,” hosted by MCD, was the right opportunity at the right time and place for her. From college professors to business leaders and those who are in recovery, the workshop included a variety of speakers and facilitators who shared their stories on how they got to where they are now.
“Stories of hope never get old, and that’s how I felt about myself, and it helped me to tell my story in order to help others,” Webster said. "When I talk to recoveries, that’s what I do. It’s not as much about the story of rock bottom, it is how you rose from the flames, and there is nothing better.”
MCD’s Valerie Jackson (left), senior program manager, and Marissa Romano (right), senior project coordinator, delivered backpacks filled with resources to the 16 participants who completed the workshop series to support them along their career path in behavioral health.
Jackson describes how one of the goals for the workshop series was to create a safe space for the audience where they would feel accepted, supported, and encouraged.
"MCD staff, including Marissa Romano and myself, were mindful of this all along, which I think influenced the connectedness of the group and was supported by some of the post-evaluation comments,” Jackson said.
The last career goal that Webster developed at the workshop was the longest-term goal, one that she is still pondering: becoming a certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC). She feels as though she could further expand her reach in helping even more people in recovery by attaining even more knowledge in the field of behavioral health. However, she still “really loves” her current role as a peer counselor and working with people on the “same playing field.”
No matter where her planned career goals or overall path takes her, Webster realizes that her mission is all about strengthening the connection to community, connection to friends and family, and connection to yourself and the life you want to live. Through this mindset, she feels as if she is where she needs to be and is enjoying every minute of it.
“The opposite of addiction is connection – for me, that means being in my community, sharing my story, and being a resource and a place of hope,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with the stigma where people feel shameful and have a lot of guilt. If we can talk as humans and be willing to hold space for others without judgment or fear, then we have an opportunity to talk about solutions and emotional well-being.”
About the Rural Behavioral Health Workforce Center
The Rural Behavioral Health Workforce Center (RBHWC) is an initiative from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). MCD Global Health was one of four awardees that received a three-year grant through HRSA to expand behavioral health care services in rural Maine through education, training, and mentorship programs.
Included in this initiative is the four-part, virtually guided “Recovery Jobs for Beginners: A Guided Workshop Series” that focuses on accelerating a person’s entry into and progression in behavioral health careers, designed for people with lived experience, affected others, and allies who live and work in certain counties along Maine’s northern border.
The Rural Behavioral Health Workforce Center is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $1,365,000 with 0 percentage financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.