Guiding young people in recovery

Connection, communication and cooking

When Ronnie first made the decision to switch careers and step into the human services field, he had one major goal in mind: to help people.

Early on, he learned that, by providing support to young people who are experiencing challenges with addiction and mental health, he could have a major impact in their lives and help them build healthier futures.

It was this motivation—and what he says was a whole lot of research—that led Ronnie to seek a role at Goodwin House, CHD’s residential addiction treatment center supporting boys aged 13-17 on their path to recovery.

As part of their up-to-90-day treatment, residents at Goodwin House participate in individual, group and family therapies and social and educational workshops while receiving school and vocational guidance. With a focus on both mental health and substance use, Goodwin House helps residents take a step back from their everyday lives, and the situations that may have led them to the program, in order to practice healthy coping strategies and embark on their path to recovery.

“When I stumbled upon Goodwin House, I was excited about the opportunity because I felt like I had a lot I could relate to,” Ronnie said. “I myself struggled with substance use as a teen. I didn’t realize it as that at the time, but when I got older and did some work on myself, I had to recognize that. Now, I’m able to share my own experiences with residents.”

As Lead Recovery Specialist at Goodwin House, Ronnie helps support young people in the program as they work toward their recovery. In doing so, he runs a variety of life skills groups that residents can use to supplement their work as they begin or continue their recovery journeys.

When the weather is nice, Ronnie facilitates physical activity groups ranging from basketball tournaments and flag football games to hiking and time outdoors. “I love to get them outside and do meditation and mindfulness exercises. I think that plays a huge part in being self-aware, especially in regards to how you feel in recovery,” he said.

Ronnie also runs a self-awareness group that helps residents do a lot of introspecting and creates a space to share stories. Among these groups is one focused on helping residents learn ways to become assertive communicators. The goal of this group, Ronnie said, is to help residents get to a point where they can advocate for themselves, or effectively reach out to someone who can advocate for them.

“Being an assertive communicator can be beneficial to anybody, but especially to people in recovery. Ronnie explained. “A lot of them struggle with speaking up. I myself at that age struggled with being assertive. I was either aggressive or passive—no in-between. It’s important that we’re able to assertively speak and stand up for ourselves while also being respectful and staying true to ourselves at the same time,” he said.

One of Ronnie’s favorite life skills, and one he deems his own main coping skill, is cooking. The sense of accomplishment and connection that comes from preparing a meal, on one’s own or with others, is a passion that Ronnie helps impart on residents whenever he can through a cooking group held in the kitchen at Goodwin House.

“Through the entire process of making a meal everybody has a role. It involves a lot of teamwork and communication,” Ronnie said. In his experience, many residents at first assume they can’t cook, or that they need to have more experience in the kitchen to be good enough. Ronnie guides them through the process and watches as residents get the hang of it, or even feel empowered in the process. “Sometimes I even step aside and just help oversee, and watch as it all comes together,” he said. “I think that’s where the connection is built: when they connect the dots and say to themselves ‘I can do this’ and try new things.”

As someone whose life has been touched by addiction, Ronnie appreciates the impact the program is able to make for young people, and how its dual focus on mental health and substance use helps boys get to the root of the issue to build a foundation for a healthy life.

“Addiction has also affected my family, so it means a lot to me to be a part of a community teaching sobriety and supporting others through it at an early age. A lot of people don’t have the privilege or opportunity to have an intervention so young—it’s usually later in life,” he said.

Ronnie also appreciates the dedication of his fellow staff, who fulfill the important work of Goodwin House, the only program of its kind in Western MA.

“My team that I work with daily—I would not be able to do it without them. This is a machine with many different parts to it, and we all work together to get it done at Goodwin House.”

Giving Boys Space to Heal

Goodwin House is a safe haven for boys in the grips of substance use challenges. If your child is struggling, a gender-specific program like this one may be the answer.