Network of Support Helps Create a New Way Forward

There’s really no way to know how far or wide the ripple from an act of kindness will spread. Kevin remembers the people in his life who showed him compassion and offered encouragement. Today he spends his days finding new ways to help others. Kevin attends AA regularly and is working to become a sponsor. Last November he joined a church and started attending bible study classes. He enjoys working in the church’s food pantry and clothing closet.

“I received help. Why shouldn’t I help others?” Kevin said he recently began a pastoral leadership program. “I am learning how to minister on the streets. We do outreach in the neighborhoods.” He said his experience talking in front of the group at the Partners in Recovery (PIR) program gave him the confidence he needed to share his story openly with others.

A man in a blue shirt that reads 'Where God guides, he provides' and a blue baseball cap is standing in front of a set of stairs. On the door behind him is a sign for Catholic Charities.

Accepting Responsibility at a Young Age

The son of a single mom, Kevin grew up poor in Bellville, NJ. “We had this dinky little apartment with one bedroom. For a long time, I shared that room with my mom, but when I got older, she gave it to me.” Even though he didn’t have much, Kevin remembers there were always people who helped him. “My uncle made sure I lived like a normal kid. He bought me clothes. I had friends and their mothers would look out for me. They made sure I had food; they took me places.”

Kevin started working at an early age. At 9 or 10, he said he did odd jobs at the deli down the street from where he lived. “I spent what I earned on candy or video games. Sometimes I gave my mom what I made.” When he was 11, he got a job at a pizzeria washing dishes and folding boxes. At 14, he started working at the local supermarket. That is also the age he started drinking alcohol and using drugs.

After high school, Kevin became a maintenance mechanic for refrigeration and food processing machines. He worked at a large beverage manufacturing plant in Flemington. “It was a high stress job.” He said when equipment malfunctioned, the production line stopped and there was immense pressure to get things moving again quickly. He came to rely on drugs and alcohol even more. Eventually, he sought help at an outpatient mental health treatment program.

Kevin was laid off and lost access to the treatment program; he could no longer see his psychiatrist. “When I lost my job my doctor dumped me and I was without my medicine for a while.” Thankfully, Kevin discovered Early Intervention Support Services (EISS) in Hamilton in May of 2016. EISS is a psychiatric urgent care program providing rapid access to clinical and psychiatric interventions. Despite not having insurance, Kevin received treatment.

Services to Address Different Needs

After a month, the counselors at EISS referred Kevin to Catholic Charities’ Guidance Clinic in Trenton. There he met with a psychiatrist regularly, who helped him manage his medications and referred him to PIR for group therapy sessions.

Once he got his substance use under control, Kevin said he began overeating. “I substituted food for the drugs and alcohol and I gained a lot of weight.” At 460 lbs., Kevin was on oxygen and ended up being hospitalized for two weeks with complications of lymphedema. With so many health concerns, Kevin began receiving nurse case management services from CCT’s Behavioral Health Home program. Nurses monitored his health and made sure he was able to get in to see all of the specialists he needed to see, including his dentist. “I was seeing three or four doctors a month — a cardiologist, a pain specialist, a pulmonologist, my primary care doctor. The nurses helped me make my appointments. When I couldn’t drive, they took me there. They handled all the logistics,” he said.

Nurse Care Manager Janese Scarlett worked with Kevin to help him manage his health. “He had so many different doctors. I showed him how to use the calendar feature on his phone to keep track of all of the visits and set up alerts.” She said it was gratifying watching him grow as a person. “Kevin really wanted to change his situation. He followed through on all he needed to do,” said Scarlett. “You can tell he is feeling more confident now. He’s doing a lot of volunteering and giving back.”

“I had a bunch of health issues,” said Kevin. “I had pinched nerves and my knees were blown out. I was dealing with pain all of the time. I was walking with a walker. But I was still coming to Catholic Charities. I was still making progress.” He said he was able to lose more than 100 lbs. on his own by making smarter food choices, eating less and walking more. Because of the progress he made, Kevin was able to have gastric bypass surgery. Since then, his mobility has improved and he can drive his truck again.

Recovery Opens New Doors

“The people at Catholic Charities encouraged me.” He said Peer Advocate Robert Brooks was always providing support. “He would tell me to get up and keep moving. If I didn’t have anyone to talk to, Robert talked to me. He didn’t rush me. He made sure I was getting the help I needed.”

“I believe I was a role model to Kevin, influencing him with my example of recovery. He watched me grow and knew that his recovery was possible,” said Brooks. “I have recommended that he pursue classes to become a Peer Specialist or Certified Recovery Support Specialist. I have watched Kevin grow and continue to recover, which is why I think he would make an excellent peer advocate.”

“A lot of good things happened for me at Catholic Charities,” said Kevin. “I feel like God was watching over me and he led me here.”

EISS provides rapid access to short term, recovery-oriented, clinical, and psychiatric and medication management interventions seven days a week. No appointments necessary. For information in Burlington County, call (609) 386–7331; in Mercer County, call (609) 256–4200.

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