OUR JOURNEY THROUGH THE YEAR

It was Thursday March 12, 2020. Our team gathered in our Taunton office for our monthly check in. We looked forward to these meetings; this was the only time we could all be in the same room together. Coming from all corners of the state, most of our team have always worked remotely. This was a time for each of us to update on what’s new with their meeting chapters, give each other support and to strategize on projects. We always looked forward to our traditional Greek Salads from Devito’s for lunch.

On that same day it was in the news that COVID-19 was characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Governor Baker issued an order stating that groups over 25 could no longer gather.  The numbers of infections were growing, and the threat of the spread was becoming apparent. We started to go over how we would handle our meeting chapters and we discussed the possibility of our office shutting down. This was not an easy conversation. We were nervous. Our world as we knew it was suddenly changing. We were now responsible for the safety of our members, and for the team. None of us would have ever imagined that day that it would be our last time in the office together. We were about to enter the virtual world.

The next day, Friday March 13th, Governor Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts and the decision was made. I sat in my office, took a deep breath, and let the team know that not only were LTC meeting chapters postponed, those of us who worked in the office every day would be working from home indefinitely. We quickly mobilized an emergency team call. All hands were on deck and we began the plan.  Those of us in the office collected all we needed to work from home, shut the lights off in the office and locked the door.  We needed to get the word out and quickly!  Fortunately, some of us were already familiar with ZOOM but there was still much that we all needed to learn.  In an amazingly short period of time, we purchased several ZOOM licenses, learned how to use ZOOM, and practiced online meetings with our volunteer facilitators, condensed and combined our meetings by region, and started our virtual journey.

The week of March 13th marked exactly one year since we closed the office door. The daily death tolls and infection rates on the news are lower than what we have been used to hearing about. There are now three different vaccines that are slowly becoming available. The restrictions are getting more lenient, schools are beginning to talk about reopening classes, sports events are taking place, and restaurants are re-opening. As I sit here writing this letter, I can’t help but think of the one thing that has never changed, never slowed down. The Opioid epidemic. In fact, it got worse. Suicide rates in adults and children are on the rise, and the isolation of COVID-19 and SUD has been disastrous. We already had a public health crisis, but COVID-19 brought it to a whole new and more dangerous level. Many people in long term recovery lost their jobs which led to relapse and often to their death. Many others lost their beds or incomes making them unable to afford their space in sober living or apartments. Families who lost their loved ones this past year were not able to experience any closure, as they were not able to have funerals or services. Families were losing loved ones to SUD and in some cases losing others to COVID. The added stress of COVID on top of SUD for families has been astronomical. Our team has been working many hours every week to make sure we offer as much support as we possibly can. We are all in this together.

SILVER LININGS IN OUR NEW NORMAL

I am writing you this letter from my home office. A space that I changed from light yellow to a calming and centering baby blue. This space is where I have taught myself to do yoga stretches and meditate early in the morning to assist with whatever is to come of the day and night ahead.  I have learned the importance of self-care for myself, for our team and our members in today’s world, more so than ever before. A year has passed since we walked out of the Taunton office. I reflect on the amazingly hard work that our talented team and volunteers have accomplished. The birds are chirping, spring is in the air and that feels like hope. I feel grateful that our team works so well together and respects each other. Together we manage to come up with so many innovative ideas to keep our people engaged and feeling supported.

Our team is truly dedicated. Like with any difficult situation there are always silver linings.

I will begin with the good news. Throughout all of this we have still been able to provide Narcan and training over ZOOM. In many cases we drop it off in mailboxes keeping a safe social distance or send it through the mail.

A big thank you to Eileen Ruhl, Program Director, Carrie Walsh, Events and Training Coordinator, and Patty Conant, South Coast Regional Manager, for not only supporting meetings but also virtually staffing “the office” along with our Accountant, Jim Hatch, and keeping us functioning and compliant. They have not skipped a beat making sure the phones are answered, thank you letters written, donations tracked, and bills paid. Thank you for providing a solid foundation in this difficult time. Thank you also to Mary D’Eramo, a fellow founding member of Learn to Cope since 2004 who helped establish the Norwell LTC Chapter which in recent years moved to Hanover. Mary is committed to Learn to Cope’s Discussion Board which has remained a busy and supportive tool. This year there were 365 new member registrations, 43 in the last month alone! Mary keeps up with all the posts and offers comforting words and educational links and news articles. There is never a day that goes by without Mary checking on the discussion board.

I also want to thank Terri Nabulsi, Central Mass Regional Manager. Terri founded the Worcester meeting in 2011. We can credit Terri with the pebble in the water for our Western Mass meetings to build later with Marcy Julian. The Worcester meeting turns 10 this year. Terri continues to be a large support to families in Worcester and Gardner. Terri’s commitment has never wavered.

Kim Leman, our Operations and Marketing Coordinator and Regional Manager for Quincy and Hanover, created the “Stay Connected” form through Constant Contact. This has allowed us to keep in close touch with members, direct new members to our virtual meetings, send out our weekly zoom meeting links, and allow people to register for our educational events.

In April of 2020 Peter Babineau, our Western Mass Senior Manager, recognized a need for a special group for individuals who have lost a loved one to SUD yet have another family member still struggling with the disease of addiction. “Still Learning Still Coping”, named by the members of this unique group, offers a place for the members to meet virtually each week where they can talk about their loss while receiving support for their surviving loved one with SUD.

In May of 2020 we decided to kick off our series of educational and informative webinars.  We began with Attorney General Maura Healey’s Legal team regarding the Purdue Pharma lawsuits and bankruptcy. As of today, we have had 7 successful and very well attended webinars with more innovative guests to come. Most recently we welcomed Dan Schneider from the Netflix series “The Pharmacist”. I am grateful to Kim and to Carrie Walsh who behind the scenes have made it all flow smoothly, from the registration process down to the technology by making sure our guest’s presentations are up and running. Working with them on the webinars has been really rewarding.

In addition, one of our LTC facilitators, Caleb, created a writing group. Today the group meets regularly on Saturdays. The members of this group are given a prompt to write about then share their writing with the other members the following week. There have been some amazing pieces created within this group! It’s a private and safe place for people to share their creativity. Writing is part of the healing process, and anyone is welcome to join Caleb’s group.  It’s awesome!

Kathy Day, our Director of Program Development and Training and Senior Regional Manager for the North Shore, worked with the team to create a voluntary survey 6 months into the epidemic. The survey was designed to get a bird’s eye look at how the pandemic was impacting our families and to identify additional ways we could provide support outside of the comfort of our usual meeting spaces. A common theme throughout the survey was how people miss the connection and intimacy of in-person meetings. We miss that too. A large portion of those responding indicated there were unexpected benefits to the Zoom meetings, including convenience of not having to travel, the ability to listen to speakers with their camera off in the privacy of their own home, and attending meetings in areas that would otherwise have been impossible to get to. Some indicated barriers such as “Zoom fatigue” after using it all day for their work life, a lack of privacy at home or their discomfort with technology. The survey provided more information that we will be sharing separately.

Over the past year we have gained many new members from around the state of Massachusetts and nationally.

I am so proud to say that a longtime dream and goal of LTC has been reached! Initially our LTC Espanol group was to have its kick-off in March of 2020. Due to the state shut down we had to postpone it. I am happy to say the kickoff happened on February 10th of this year. The group is meeting weekly with Magda and Nellie at the helm. It is so nice to be able to say we have a Spanish speaking group! We can thank Marcy Julian (former Senior Regional Manager – Western Mass), Peter Babineau, Magda Colon and Nellie for making all of this happen! We are working on other ways to reach more diverse populations and work with all communities! Every family deserves to have a place for support!

Our website is getting a new look! Stay tuned! You will see more features coming soon!

With increased talk of the need for self-care during this incredibly stressful year, Well Being Weekends were introduced in February to help members add tools to their self-care toolbox. Kathy Day will be working with different people who offer these healing services. Each will be done as six-to-eight-week workshops. One special component of the classes is that the teachers are folks in long term recovery who certified in holistic practices such as meditation, reiki, gentle stretching, and guided meditation. Although offered virtually this can also be a way to combat “Zoom fatigue.” We offer both a Friday night guided meditation, and a Sunday reset.

We added three new team members this year, each beginning remotely during the shutdown. We are grateful to have Lisa Donoghue, Cape Cod Regional Manager, Beverly Collins, Northeast Regional Manager, and Magda Colon, our LTC Espanol Regional Manager!

We truly miss Marcy Julian, our former Western Mass Senior Regional Manager and longtime friend! Marcy retired last July. We are grateful for the work she did for so many years with us! She will stay connected with us forever. We were truly heartbroken to lose a long time Learn to Cope member, friend, and former team member Vicky Ruvido on May 3rd, 2020 when she lost her battle with cancer. Vicky helped many during her lifetime, especially families raising grandchildren. Vicky will never be forgotten.

As of today, we are not sure when it will be safe to go back to in person meetings. The safety of our volunteers and our team is of utmost importance. Either way, we do know that virtual meetings will always continue so we can be sure that our new members who live far away can always access support. Thank you to all our members, our amazing volunteers, and to the Learn to Cope team for your constant support for the good of all families and loved ones.

I will end with my favorite Margaret Mead quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Sincerely,
Joanne Peterson
Executive Director
Learn to Cope