Staff Highlight: Laura Stephens

Laura Stephens, Program Manager in Jackson

“My name is Laura Stephens and I am the Program Manager for Home of New Vision in Jackson. My job entails creating, supporting and facilitating programs that connect and support the recovery community.  One thing we’re working on right now is creating a Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) initiative in Jackson. This means educating businesses and those who hire, of the importance of hiring and supporting employment for people in recovery. For example, you might be employing somebody because you need the staff, but you are actually changing a life because now they’re able to fulfill legal requirements, financial responsibilities and personal growth.

How did you become interested in this line of work?

“My line of work is broad and with great depth. I’ve worked with the homeless and those with substance use disorders for years. It’s a group of people that I connect with. I have studied and worked with people and it can be very fulfilling to help them navigate life and see their successes. I think it’s my approachable personality, and my boots on the ground presence that allow me to work with people who are the hardest hit. It’s not always someone who’s going to come in the door at Home of New Vision and say “here I am, help me.” I usually seek out someone I can help walk out of the trenches with. I work with those in the community who are under some kind of stigma, and I’m willing to be that voice that says, “no, no that’s not OK, that’s not how we talk about it.” I am willing to walk the hard walk with them.  You truly have a change of perspectives on life just by being willing to stand up for others and say these people are worth it.  I’ve done that. A lot.

How did you end up at HNV?

“Honestly sometimes it’s OK to take a step back from what really makes you want to explode in life and motivates you, and be humble for a minute and quietly work behind the scenes again. I think that’s what I was brought here for. To be a part of the change in Jackson—the equitable and healthy Jackson that we all want and deserve to be a part of. I believe I understand some of the people here in Jackson who ought to be connected to Home of New Vision.  I absolutely know the impact Home of New Vision can have in the near future for our community.

Tell me more about going from working with the homeless to substance use disorder?

“Barriers, needs not being met, shame, mental health concerns, being unaware of resources and options with a sense of being alone in their issue. Those things remained the same. In most places like Jackson there’s a “housing first” model, which means you’re homeless, we need a house to place you in, we want you housed. We fight through housing barriers, we scrape up basic needs and then we step away. The problems are solved, but actually the real reason they got to that point has not been solved.

“When I was working at the shelter and I started to see the substance use picture, the opioids, the methadone, alcohol. . . all this stuff was happening so I sought to understand. I advocated and engaged, planned and supported until I learned how to start identifying each barrier and began to offer bridges and pathways around and through those barriers.  Then I became a part of Jackson Harm Reduction. Harm reduction complements Clean Works and it gives people the opportunity to use safely, cleanly, and to get tested for HIV, Hep C and STDs. This underground grass roots group which is now a 501(c)(3) meets people where they are at in there SUD and recovery.  It is challenging and rewarding work.  Through JXN Harm Reduction I see those in very early stages of contemplation to people walking through the doors of Home of New Vision sharing their story. So, you have harm reduction and you have Home of New Vision that offer services throughout the spectrum. Because of these places and the opportunities that each provide, we are filling the gaps and making a difference with people’s pathway to recovery. We must make sure the community knows that having a place like HNV is absolutely normal and should be talked about in everybody’s homes, and we should be flowing people through these doors. That is what I want to see happen with Home of New Vision.

What is the point of the Recovery Bistro?

“Primarily to learn and make connections. Every time we get a speaker in here WE are educated too and it’s always this little thing that could help somebody, right? And then also, I believe you come in at Bistro and you watch these people and you might feel like you have a new connection in the world. Recovery means strengthening every area of your life, making your building blocks so strong that nobody can knock them down, even when you’re feeling weak. And that includes your mental and physical health, which includes learning. What is here at Bistro, you can actually touch and be a part of. You can help yourself stay healthy and sane.

Is there a particular case or a special person you’ve worked with that you would like to share?

“Wow. . .  I’m a clearinghouse, sometimes, for people. Like right now I have three people who have reached out to me. One is from the Angel’s Network two are through community outreach. Certain needs or asks are funneled through me. We connect and we address that difficult need if it is in the realm of Substance Use or homelessness. Then I try to get them, you know, the help they need.

What is one special thing about you that nobody knows?

Actually, I’m really an introvert and of course talking publicly and to others is what I do.  Sometimes the strongest people have issues like these that they never vocalize, and people would never guess it. I struggle a lot. Talking with people, being with people. I mean, I just ran a campaign for a public service position and I just can’t believe some of the things that I did. I mean, I’m using my mind, and my soul in this campaign, and talking in front of many people, and in my mind I’m saying, “you can do this, you can do this, Laura. You can go into that building or you can go to that meeting.” I always have to remind myself that every time I walk into a room I deserve to be there. That of all the people there, I deserve to be there too. Sometimes we all need to hear that. It’s kept me very humble. I think that it’s helped with how people see me as approachable. When you do certain things in the world, like you run campaigns or advocate and build things in your community, you have to be willing to put yourself and your requests out there. It can be challenging personally sometimes, but for me it has kept me so grounded.

Do you experience burnout?

“Yes, and it’s OK, to be honest about this, that there’s burnout. Burnout comes naturally when you give your ALL to people. It’s like, you go round and round in a circle, talking with these people, and you realize, nothing I just said may make any difference today but you have to keep trying.  It is also about boundaries and knowing your limitations and accepting them.

“So at the end of the day you have to be OK with that, that some things are just out of your hands. In recovery and in many things, sometimes we can only do what we can do, and as long as we can say we did our best, we gave it our all, then I can be OK with that.”