For the past seven months, Reava has been off the heroin and the speed that she was doing on a daily basis. She credits her new clean living to VCH’s Sisters Together Active in Recovery (STAR) program.
“The program was mind blowing,” the 39-year-old tells me. “Every day I went there, it was something pertaining to my life…the things we talked about had a direct impact.”
In its first year of operations, the STAR program helped more than 100 women with addiction and substance abuse problems in Vancouver, Richmond and the North Shore.
“I’m really proud of my staff,” says JP Grimard, clinical supervisor of the program. “Clinically they’re very skilled but they’ve also been really creative in making a program that has helped the community.”
“I think there was a huge gap in the market for this kind of service and women were definitely underserved and underrepresented,” JP tells me. “It’s so crucial to have women-only services because they experience a lot of trauma from men and having mixed groups is challenging.”
The program is composed of two streams: Rising STAR, a six-week early recovery program that teaches essential recovery skills from a harm-reduction perspective and Bright STAR, a six-week intensive program that is abstinence-based. A new drop-in group for all women in recovery called Morning STAR is also available on an ongoing weekly basis.
“It was fabulous,” said a client who wished to remain anonymous. “I felt very safe. I have never felt safe to share before. Thank you.”
“I don’t think I would be 45 days clean and sober if I hadn’t attended this group,” said another woman. “I have learned so much and will carry what I’ve learned with me through my recovery and my life. Thank you!”
Roy Ang, manager of Vancouver Community Mental Health and Addiction Services is proud of the program as well.
He notes that not once did their clients have to wait for help.
“We’ve never had a waiting list,” Roy says. “Despite the fact that we’ve run close to capacity on a few occasions, we’ve been flexible enough and nimble enough on our feet to meet the needs of the community. This is also based on the fact that STAR was developed with an ongoing, rolling intake – new participants start on a weekly basis.”
After the one-year anniversary, STAR collected feedback from clients on how to improve the program and have since extended some services from four days a week to five.
While the program lasts six weeks, there is opportunity for graduates of the program to volunteer as peer leaders in the groups.
“They act as the middle person between staff and clients,” JP says. “That’s been very successful as well. That presence in the group shifts so much because clients have someone there they can really identify with. It’s really powerful.”
Reava says the STAR facilitators made a huge impact on her life.
“They were absolutely amazing,” she says. “Their hearts were so into it, into our lives, so into us. I’ve never experienced programming like that. People aren’t usually so nice to recovering addicts. I’ll never forget them.”