Voices in Recovery Award 2022: Part 2

The Voices in Recovery award highlights those in the recovery community who stand out for the work they do to help people who can’t always speak up for themselves. WSTC is honoring two people for the Voices in Recovery award this year.

Part One of this blog shares about Jim Adrian receiving the award because of his role as a landlord and employer whose voice is making such a difference. In Part Two, we honor the staff member who also received the Voices of Recovery award.

CEO Ken Wilson notes that choosing this person was easy. When Ken asked staff to nominate someone within the company for the award, they unanimously nominated the same person, saying things like, “She’s an automatic first choice for a nomination of Voice in Recovery,” and “She’s a shining example of what you can do in recovery.” Community partners also weighed in with praise for her accomplishments, making this years’ Voices in Recovery choice obvious:

Michelle Vargo!

In announcing the winner, Ken said, “If there’s something to be done, she gets it done right now, which is why her voice in recovery is so loud. She acts but is not reactive. She leads her staff with compassion, humor, and sensibility. This company is better because of Michelle.”

Although obviously surprised, Michelle responded to the honor with grace and magnanimity. “Receiving the Voices in Recovery award came as a shock to me. It is such an honor, and I am humbled to have been at the receiving end of it. It takes a team, and this is my team.”

She went on to stress the significance of her team to her ability to effectively use her voice for recovery:

“When I go to work each day, it does not feel like work to me. When I greet my team each day, I am greeting an extension of my family. Having such an amazing team is what makes what we do matter that much more.

“We are four people who have lived experience, and through that experience, we are able to understand the struggles and extend our hands in support of others who may be going through the same things that we overcame. Our team is supportive of one another. When we go out into the streets, we are out there because we genuinely care about the well-being of each person that we come across.”

Michelle notes that the strength of her voice is also partly a product of her lived experience, saying, “It took a lot of life struggles for me to get to where I am today, I spent many years out in the streets in active addiction and living a life of utter chaos. In and out of prison many times, I lost custody of my children, and I allowed drugs to cloud my mind and my judgment for most of my life.”

When Michelle decided to leave addiction behind and enter recovery, she didn’t do it half-heartedly. Britania Ison, who is now WSTC’s CDO, was Michelle’s counselor at the beginning. She remembers that, on paper, Michelle’s recovery chances seemed low, and her risk factors seemed high. “However, upon meeting Michelle in-person, it was clinically obvious that she was determined to transcend her odds,” Britania says. “Michelle presented as: willing, capable, determined, accountable, positive-minded. Michelle exceeded all treatment expectations quickly and with no reservations, including to satisfy drug court demands.”

Britania notes that WSTC was honored to be able to bring Michelle on as an employee when the opportunity arose. When a leadership position opened, “her qualities and character made her the obvious choice,” Britania says. “What she brought to the table as a person in recovery who is dedicated and committed to advancing herself and others in recovery is what mattered above all else when she took her management role. That same work ethic and commitment to recovery has shined a bright light in our community, and her leadership is evident.”

Michelle says that even though her struggles led her to where she is today, her past doesn’t define her. “I work on myself every day; I do my best to remain humble and, most importantly, teachable.”

She explains that she and her team draw inspiration from being able to support someone who is making the hard –yet lifesaving – decision to go into detox. “They know the struggle that lies ahead of them, and they still choose to go, and we’re able to be there to support them along the way as they put one foot in front of the other and start making the decisions necessary to improve their quality of life.”

Michelle’s words and deeds paint the same picture, and it’s one that reveals a champion for people struggling with substance use, a leader among her peers, and an outstanding voice for those in recovery.

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