By Colette M. Jenkins, Beacon Journal staff writer
Travis Koepnick graduated from rehab.
The first time, he relapsed. This time, he’s doing everything he can to stay clean and sober, including participating in a social and spiritual aftercare program called the REACH Project.
The Recovery, Education, Accountability, Community and Hope Project was established last February as part of the new approach at Interval Brotherhood Home’s Addiction Recovery Center. The residential rehabilitation center in Coventry Township has expanded its programming to include services to support clients after they are discharged and to statistically track graduates for two years.
“I can truly say that REACH saved my life. It has kept me busy while I look for work,” said Koepnick, 23. “The first time I went through IBH, REACH didn’t exist and I had a lot of down time with nothing to do. I took one drink and ended up back in rehab.
“I was an IV heroin user, but now I understand that I can’t put any substance in my body,” he said. “And I know I can count on everybody in REACH to help me stay on track.”
REACH was developed as a nonclinical way to address the issue of relapse among recovering addicts. Its purpose is twofold.
First, it helps IBH graduates avoid boredom and discouragement while seeking employment and keeps them connected to sober support.
Secondly, it involves them in community service that helps build self-esteem and a stronger work ethic. Volunteer community service projects have included working in food and clothing pantries, helping with local feeding programs, cleaning and painting. To date, 200 IBH graduates have completed more than 180 volunteer projects and provided more than 4,300 hours of service to the community.
“We are serving people, because in giving back, we learn to receive. Our goal is to be involved in projects that impact as many people as possible,” said Mark Salchak, REACH Project manager. “We have developed what we call a network of community partnerships with churches and organizations. Because we rely on donations and have no money for rent, we offer our work in exchange for the use of a room to have spiritual support meetings once or twice a week.”
Salchak said preliminary statistics show that recovering graduates are four times less likely to relapse when involved in REACH. Graduates are allowed to stay involved in the program as long as they want.
“When you’re doing something that matters with your time, you’re less likely to have time to get into trouble,” said Tina Purmeister, a REACH participant who is now employed with IBH as a driver. “I pick up everybody involved in REACH, drive them to the service projects and drop them off at home after. It’s great to stay connected to people who are going through the same things you’ve gone through. But seeing the smiling faces of the people we’re helping is the best.”
As an example of the kind of work the program performs, REACH volunteers spent time setting up, serving and cleaning up at a community meal in late January at Visitation of Mary Parish. Catholic Charities of Summit County hosted the event.
“They are lifesavers — godsends,” said Patrick Kennedy, who coordinates the meal program. “I’m the only employee of the meal program, so without their help, it would be just me and my daughter, and I don’t know how we would do it.”
In addition to Catholic Charities, other REACH partners include Firestone Park United Methodist Church, the Peter Maurin Center, Good Samaritan at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Good Neighbors of East Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, Emmanuel United Church of Christ, Williard United Church of Christ and the Battered Women’s Shelter.
Salchak said he always is looking for new partnerships and opportunities.
“Helping other people has given me a renewed sense of myself and my higher power. I found God again,” said Matt Petranic, 26. “When you’re serving others, you get some clarity about your own life. It helps you appreciate the things that you have.
“I’ve been blessed to make it through rehab,” he said, “and I’m blessed to have a support system, and I’m blessed to be able to help somebody else.”
Koepnick agrees with Petranic. He said REACH has helped to make him a better person and has given him an extended family that provides him with support and encouragement.
“At one point in my life, I wouldn’t even open a door for somebody else,” he said. “But serving other people has taught me to be polite and respectful, because you never know what somebody is going through.
“A little bit of kindness might make a huge difference in their life,” Koepnick said. “After going through treatment for the second time, I was able to see how much destruction I brought to other people’s lives. I have so much gratitude for where I am now. I’m making a difference in other people’s lives.
“I’m back in touch with my higher power, which I call God. My mom has her son back, and my brother has his brother back.”
For more information about REACH, to donate or to form a partnership, call Salchak at 330-644-4095 or visit www.ibh.org.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.