Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers: Faces & Voices Recovery Leadership Summit Inspires Connections and Change

In a recent interview, Patty McCarthy, CEO of Faces & Voices of Recovery, shared her thoughts on the transformative Faces & Voices Recovery Leadership Summit (RLS). McCarthy described the summit as a momentous occasion, comparing it to a rebirth after the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. She emphasized the significance of the event ­– highlighting the diverse range of attendees and the energy and synergy it generated.

Rebirth and Momentum Amidst Challenges

While the pandemic caused some loss of momentum and hindered personal interactions, the 2023 Recovery Leadership Summit, held in Washington, D.C., provided a platform to reignite the recovery movement and reconnect individuals within the recovery community. “It felt like a rebirth, a historic moment that we had spent. We had a lot of momentum building, and then COVID came and it’s like two years of people losing touch, not having that face-to-face contact.”

A Historic Gathering of Diverse Communities

The summit brought together a significant number of recovery advocates from diverse states and communities across the country, fostering unity and a shared purpose. The gathering served as a historic moment, reflecting the growth and impact of the recovery movement. McCarthy emphasized the immense energy and synergy that emerged from the attendees. “And having it in Minnesota was definitely important last year because we knew that 21 years ago it all started with a summit in St. Paul. But with over 500 people from over 40 states represented it just brought this incredible energy and synergy… just chemistry.”

Similar to the 2001 summit, there was a deliberate focus on several key areas: family recovery, recovery messaging, recovery community organizations, and faith-based recovery. In working towards a unified movement, participants recognized the importance of mutual agreements and respect for the diverse pathways to recovery. It was understood that no single approach can fit all individuals, and that honoring and supporting various pathways is crucial. Some may find solace in their spiritual or faith-based recovery journey, while others may find fulfillment in alternative support groups such as Refuge Recovery. The summit embraced these different paths and acknowledged that there are countless ways to achieve recovery.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the summit was the opportunity it provided for attendees to learn about innovative programs and approaches happening across the nation. Often, these models of success remain hidden and those in the recovery are not able to connect with those helping to promote the recovery movement. However, when like-minded individuals gather at events like this summit, barriers are broken, and knowledge is shared. “It’s all about building community, and recovery happens in communities. And I think the cool thing about this is that we know that there are examples of model programs that are doing innovative stuff in different parts of the country, but people don’t get to find out about it or actually talk to the person that’s implementing it until they come together like this.”

In planning the summit sessions and plenary speakers, Faces & Voices aligned with equity goals, advancing the cause of recovery, promoting diversity among presenters, and emphasizing the importance of language within the movement. Planners asked questions such as: How does this session meet our equity goals? Does it contribute to the advancement of recovery? Is there sufficient diversity among our presenters? Are all attendees aware of the appropriate language to use? Recognizing the power of language in shaping perceptions, it was vital for everyone involved, especially presenters, to understand that their words have the potential to put a face on recovery and ultimately reduce stigma.

By actively addressing equity, promoting diversity, and emphasizing the significance of language, the Faces & Voices Recovery Leadership Summit served as a crucial step forward in advancing the recovery movement. It demonstrated the commitment of the summit’s organizers and participants to creating a more inclusive and compassionate society, where individuals in recovery are celebrated and stigma is dismantled.

Recognizing Leaders and Reflecting on History

The summit featured America Honors Recovery to recognize outstanding individuals and organizations doing invaluable work across the country. These awards not only honor historical contributions but also highlight innovative approaches and achievements within the recovery movement. “We have to recognize that celebrations for America Honors Recovery are about recognizing how far we’ve come and not only looking at people like Phil Valentine, who received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award and was there from the beginning of this organized recovery movement back in 1998,” McCarthy explained.

By recognizing both the past and present, the event celebrated the evolution of recovery advocacy. “Our awards really reflect our history. The Advocate of the Year awards are truly historic. There’s a long history there because the Johnson Institute used to host the America Honors Recovery Awards event. Faces & Voices took it over and started it as an annual event,” McCarthy continued. “It has always been a night to remember for awardees and attendees. The feedback we’ve received has been very positive. It actually rejuvenates that inspiration.” The selection of awardees involved a collaborative process, with peer nominations and final decisions made by the Advisory Council. This inclusive approach ensured comprehensive recognition of individuals who have made significant impacts within the recovery movement.” Half of the awardees were actually nominated by their peers,” McCarthy explained. “All awardees were ultimately selected by our AHR National Advisory Council. With so many incredible leaders to recognize the selection process can be difficult, however there’s a process.”

Bringing Faces & Voices to Hill Day

On the final day of the Faces & Voices Recovery Leadership Summit, attendees gathered for a transformative event known as Hill Day. As McCarthy eloquently stated, “It’s hard to hate up close.” This sentiment encapsulates the understanding that by humanizing the experience of recovery through personal narratives and authentic connections, we can break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and foster empathy and understanding. “Every one of our folks would go to their members of Congress and introduce themselves and they’d say, ‘I’m a person in long-term recovery or I’m a family member. This is how I was affected.’ So, it’s like we are making that real connection with real stories about how substance use disorders have impacted our lives. And that’s the up-close part, the personal part.” Hill Day provided a platform for attendees to explore these important considerations, highlighting the profound impact of personal stories and lived experiences in reshaping public policies and societal attitudes towards recovery.

Rejuvenating Inspiration and Building Connections

“Everything that we did for the summit revolved around advocacy, education, and leadership,” McCarthy explained. “We need to give people the education, the information that they need to become leaders and to become good advocates. And that’s what we accomplished. And we do that throughout the year. That’s just kind of a culmination and a gathering point.” The summit served as a platform for individuals to share their stories, advocate for change, and learn from innovative programs and approaches across the country. By embracing diversity and respecting different pathways to recovery, the movement aims to reduce stigma and create a supportive community where everyone can find their own unique path to healing.

Faces & Voices of Recovery was founded by a group of recovery advocacy pioneers who believed in a world where the shame and stigma of addiction no longer exists. They believed in a world where a lifetime of recovery was within everyone’s reach. This vision is the cornerstone of the work we do every day.

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Patty McCarthy

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Patty McCarthy, M.S., has been the Chief Executive Officer of Faces & Voices of Recovery since 2015. Prior to joining Faces & Voices, she was a senior associate with the Center for Social Innovation (C4), where she served as a deputy director of SAMHSA’s BRSS TACS initiative.  Patty served for a decade as the director of Friends of Recovery-Vermont (FOR-VT), a statewide recovery community organization conducting training, advocacy and public awareness activities.  In addition to public policy and education, her work has focused on community mobilizing, peer-based recovery support services, and peer workforce development and was instrumental in the development of a national accreditation standards for peer recovery support service providers. She holds a master’s degree in community counseling and a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and has been in long-term recovery from alcohol and drug addiction since 1989.