Wellness Coordinator Alicja Carter, of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery, said her organization is one step closer to its dream of having a mentoring program.

Wellness Coordinator Alicja Carter, of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery, said her organization is one step closer to its dream of having a mentoring program.

She said Gateway recently created an advisory committee and went to work on developing a handbook, rules and guidelines for the project.

“We met with Kris Steele,” she said, who is the executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), which has similar goals to help those affected by substance abuse re-enter community life.

Since TEEM already has an established system, Gateway was able to glean from that knowledge and experience while working through its own process.

“Our handbooks are now done and being distributed,” Carter said.

The program, she said, will be based on a mentor/mentee situation.

“Our goal is 10 pairs to start,” she said.

Carter said she hopes that goal will be met by the end of September. Applications are being accepted now.

Once some pairs have been matched, she said there will likely be an event to mark the beginning of the program, where they can meet and become more familiar with the program's goals.

“Our patients are very excited about the idea of having a sober friend in the community,” she said.

The mentorships can help clients more easily transition back into societal circles they haven't been in for awhile or don't yet feel comfortable in, she said.

“Eventually, these clients may be able to share their experiences with others and can be a presence in the community,” she said.

Carter said Gateway would welcome growth of the program with as many as are willing to participate.

She said there also is potential to partner with other programs with similar interests.

“(Clinical Director) Cindy Stober and I will act as coordinators, checking in on how things are going,” she said. “We would be facilitating relationships, making sure all is working out well, and making changes if something isn't.”

The vision for a mentorship program is one Stober has been looking into for the past few years.

She said it became a focus after a leadership conference three years ago when participants had to choose a step to offset a particular disparity; she chose to build and implement elements of health and wellness at Gateway.

“We had to build a culture for it,” she said.

Soon after, she said she hired Carter; since then, the organization has identified and gathered a support system — like a wellness team of sorts — comprised of a pretty lengthy list of locals interested in helping out.

The mentorship project is a vital piece needed toward longterm success for Gateway's clients, she said.

One of the biggest hurdles for them, Stober said, is working their way into making a healthier part of the community their new norm.

“When they graduate from the program they are basically just dumped right back into the unhealthy environments and cycles they came from,” she said. “Friends who aren't sober, a circle of not-good role models and/or poverty issues are big challenges.”

The goal is to help Gateway clients and grads become a permanent part of the healthy community, as it — just as importantly — becomes part of them.

“Other programs have had great success with this kind of approach,” Stober said.

There's not a huge learning curve to become a mentor, she said.

“It's not necessary to teach or anything,” she said. “Just be a friend.”

Stober said when changing one's culture, it can be really hard to just jump into new things all by yourself.

“Just choosing to show up at something like a Community Renewal meeting or even church for the first time can be a daunting task,” she said.

Stober said it can make an uncomfortable or unfamiliar step much less difficult when a friend goes along, too.

“We are looking to matching mentors and mentees by common interests and we ask they get together at least twice a month,” she said.

Wellness makes a huge difference in recovery, Stober said.

Gateway has already experienced some great improvements through wellness-driven projects, Stober said.

“We have a Community Service team of clients, since they need community service hours anyway,” she said. “It gets them out into the area and helps them interact with other groups of people.”

Stober said Gateway also started its own softball team — now two, in fact.

“Staff and clients play together,” she said. “It became so popular we started another team this year.”

She said the joint effort between patients and staff has really developed into good, fun interaction, where staff can be good role models and clients can enjoy things they are good at.

“It brings everyone closer,” she said. “Clients become a bigger part of Gateway and are invested here. They stay longer because it means more to them and they get more out of it.”

For more information, call Gateway at (405) 273-1170 or visit gatewaytoprevention.org.