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Smyth recovery court sees growth, success

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The Smyth County Recovery Court was launched in 2018 with the mission to change lives.

With a program completion rate 10 percentage points higher than the state average of 60%, most would consider the Smyth program wildly successful.

Last Friday, the recovery court graduated its 28th participant. Many of those 28 graduates continue to lend a hand or support the program or go on to pay their recovery forward in other ways.

“We are seeing changes in the community — the ripple effect, as we call it — as they go out in the community,” said Judge Deanis Simmons, who oversees the recovery court.

Now in its fifth year of operation, the program has grown from a one-person staff overseeing a handful of participants on a shoestring budget to a four-person unit with the capacity and funding to successfully manage a couple dozen participants at once.

As the program progresses, it gradually becomes eligible for additional funding, allowing it take on more participants and build up staff to help manage them and the program’s needs.

Shortly after the program launched in 2018, funding was approved for a case manager to assist Coordinator Michelle Ward in laying out individual treatment plans and help participants follow through with them. Dane Evans stepped into that role in July.

July also saw the program bring Jennie Bostic on board as its part-time peer engagement specialist. A graduate of the program, Bostic organizes events and projects that help foster a lifestyle of recovery for both recovery court participants and its alumni.

The program then brought on its newest staff member, Donna Schaffer, in August as a part-time resource specialist. Schaffer works to help coordinate appointments and find resources that will help participants meet program requirements and help ensure their success while also maintaining the recovery court’s data.

The four-phase alternative court program works by focusing on the big picture, Ward explained.

“I know everybody wants them to be clean and sober and make it through the program, but what we’re trying to look at is the whole picture,” she said. “If you’re taking care of your dental needs and your medical needs and your mental health needs, you’re also going to be more successful while you’re clean and sober,” she said.

During the program, participants are required to attend weekly, bi-weekly or monthly recovery court sessions, depending on the phase they’re in. Random drug screens, meeting curfews, attending mental health counseling and community support groups are also required.

Staff members work to help participants obtain birth certificates and Social Security cards so they can get their driver’s licenses or ID’s that are needed to gain employment and secure stable housing. Fines are also paid through community service w so that participants’ income are not garnished once they do become employed.

Participants also work on bigger goals, such as getting GEDs or going on to college.

The goal is to help those once caught up in the legal system due to drug use become healthy and productive members of their community.

In addition to its internal growth, Ward said in the years since the recovery court launched, she’s also noticed changes outside the program that help foster recovery and help participants meet their goals.

“I think we’ve learned a lot about just what recovery is in this community,” she said. “The bigger piece that I’ve noticed is that the community is really trying to change and help and there’s more supports out there.”

Though it’s slowed some since the pandemic, Ward added, “There’s more people offering to help, and it’s not just being supportive, but actually putting their time and energy into it.”

One of the biggest hurdles participants face is finding transportation, Ward said. Some community members, she said, have taken to volunteering their time to offer transportation to get participants to their appointments until they can do so themselves.

Other help has come in the form of offering community support groups in the evenings. Day time only meetings, she said, can interfere with participants gaining employment since the program requires they attend two sessions a week in addition to their mental health treatments.

At Friday’s graduation celebrating Tyler Adams’s completion of the program, Simmons doted on his success. She also took the opportunity to highlight the dedication recovery court team members have shown.

Related story:

Smyth recovery court celebrates 28th graduate

Comprised of Ward and Dane Evans, along with Commonwealth’s Attorney Roy Evans, defense attorney Mark Fenyk, probation officer Mark Richardson, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Tony Powers and Denisha Cook with Mount Rogers Community Services, Simmons said the team is the “heart and soul” of the program.

She said she’s sat in on other recovery court programs consisting of team members who seemed to be there only because the law mandated them to be.

That’s not the case in Smyth County, she said.

“It’s not a put-on,” Simmons said. “All the people on the team genuinely care.”

In some cases those required to take part in other programs, such as commonwealth’s attorneys, choose to delegate the task to someone else from their office.

“I can assure you, Mr. Evans cares. He participates, and he has since day one.”

Saying she doesn’t often get a chance to brag on the prosecutor, Simmons said, “Most people don’t get to see him, or myself, being compassionate or supportive…Tyler has gotten to see that.”

She also sang Fenyk’s praises. The defense attorney, she said, in essence paid out-of-pocket by allotting his time to the recovery court, yet he is dedicated to the program and its mission.

Powers, she said, has also been a tremendous asset to the program, Simmons said, noting that Powers and his family “live a very charitable life and have a love for the community.”

“I just commend him and his family, because that is such a part of who he is and who his family is,” she said.

She also pointed to Bostic as an example of the program’s success.

“You see a person here who is reaching her potential and really blooming in the world,” she said.

Members of the recovery court team do the work they do because they believe they can make a difference, Simmons later went on to say.

“This program gives us all a hope, an outlet and a vision that these individuals are not lost.”

Those interested in helping the program can find out how by contacting Ward at recoverycourt@smythcounty.org .

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