At BWROC, those who've battled addiction and won, shepherd others toward recovery

At Blue Water Outreach & Recovery Center (BWROC), our mission is to provide the face and voice of recovery, to promote community wellness and engagement, and to support all recovery pathways. What makes our organization unique, is that we’re a non-clinical approach to recovery. The fact that we don’t operate under the traditional clinically-based method allows us to be relatable and ultimately, more successful in helping our community reach their goals. 

As executive director at BWROC, I'm a person who has suffered and recovered from addiction. I know these struggles better than those who are only familiar through textbooks or clinical studies. I’ve been homeless, seeking sobriety, and utterly hopeless to the point where I attempted suicide. In 2017, I found my way from Flint to Port Huron. Ironically, this was the same year Richard Kroll, our current president whom I respect greatly, founded our nonprofit. He has a huge heart and a passion for the recovery community.

At BWROC, we didn’t try to duplicate other recovery efforts, but have pioneered new ways to reach and help the community. Our Recovery Education in the Workplace program is the only one of its kind in Michigan. We provide recovery coaches onsite three days a week at SMR Automotive Systems USA, Inc. located in Marysville. They are the largest manufacturing employer in St. Clair County. Our coaches are an extension of their HR department, so if someone in their organization is struggling with addiction, they can come to us. If they’ve made serious mistakes on the job, rather than being fired, we offer them a second chance. Completing a one-year program with us allows them to keep their employment. 

Our organization is run with the help of volunteers who do everything from cleaning our facility to maintaining our community garden. "The Positive Impact Team," as we call them, is made up of about 30 people in recovery. In total, we average around 100 volunteers a year, some of whom are performing community service. We began our organization with just two employees, and the pandemic hit us not long afterward. Yet, we’ve weathered the storm, and are now up to five employees. 

We feel we are David going up against Goliath. Our need is greater than our current capacity, and our funding is limited. During the pandemic, we joined the Michigan Recovery Community Collective (MRCC) that works to improve recovery policy in Lansing. When we started our first legislation in 2018, there were four RCO’s (recovery community organizations) involved. There are now 17 RCO organizations like BWROC who have come together across Michigan to tackle the problem of addiction and drug abuse. We didn’t originally receive any state funding because we don’t follow the typical clinical model. So, we wrote Michigan’s first-ever recovery support services bill, which now allocates 1.2 million dollars a year to fund eight RCO organizations at $150,000 each. The first legislation was done in 2018, and the last in 2020.  

Locally, we’ve reached out to 400 businesses looking for support of our mission, and 85 of them have assisted us. One important partnership has been with the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce. When others turned us away, or had no idea there was even an issue with addiction in our community, they’ve helped us spread awareness about our organization. Along with our local representatives, police, firefighters, and churches, they’ve been key partners to help us get to where we are today. 

Our greatest challenge has been our lack of funding and resources. We need more staff to be able to take on the number of individuals who are seeking help. I did 90 percent of the work in the beginning, but things have expanded beyond what I can do alone. We’re trying to come up with a plan to grow our staff in order to be able to continue serving our community well. 

Our small team has managed to be quite effective. Fifty percent of our community make it to 90 days of sobriety, and 50 percent improve their self-sufficiency. We'll continue to champion our mission and our goals in the community to reach as many who need help as we can. We're bringing together the recovery community and the community as a whole to further our mission.

On Aug. 27, we’ll be hosting the first recovery and rescue community softball tournament at Pine Grove Park in Port Huron. Here, we invite friendly competition between the recovery community and local law enforcement, firefighters and churches. By creating opportunities like this, we’re seeking to further build that relationship and trust in our still young organization.

Since the pandemic, we feel there is more need than ever for the work we do. Many people have turned to drugs and self-harm during these lonely months of isolation. We're here to offer our community hope, which is what everyone needs to push forward and be successful.

Patrick Patterson is the executive director at Blue Water Recovery Outreach Center in Port Huron. This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, a heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of climate change and more are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.