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Meet Joel, our March Specialist Spotlight! Joel is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, a peer specialist trainer, a dedicated recovery advocate in New Jersey and CEO of Mainstream Recovery. Read the interview below to learn more about Joel and the recovery community in New Jersey!

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: My name is Joel Pomales, and I am a person in long-term recovery since July 2011. I was born and raised in New Jersey, and currently live in Point Pleasant Beach, just a few blocks from the shore.

I am the founder and CEO of Mainstream Recovery, a consulting and training firm focused on Recovery Support Programs that was founded in 2017. We are working to make recovery support services available to every person in need by providing technical assistance and program development to individuals, organizations, and communities.

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I am a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) in New Jersey and a trainer for an approved CPRS curriculum in New Jersey. I am also the Board President and Acting Director for the Middlesex County Recovery Community Center, which is a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing peer-driven support services to those in recovery.

I am a person who is dedicated to changing the addiction and recovery landscape in my state and beyond. I am truly passionate about making recovery support programs widely available for all who need them. I have been involved in advocating for systems change focused on addiction recovery since 2012, first being involved with Young People in Recovery. Since then, I have been involved with many organizations to make recovery more accessible to those in need, helping to make necessary changes at both the community and legislative level. I also do my best to educate those who may be misinformed or carry stigma towards substance use disorders.

Q: What inspired you to become a peer specialist?

A: I got into this work because I am super passionate about using my experience to help others find their way into and through recovery. For a long time I did not know that addiction was an illness, or that recovery from it was a “thing.” When I entered recovery and got to experience the life I had dreamed of for so long, it became my mission to empower others to do the same.

For several years in my recovery I was pursuing a more clinical route with a drug and alcohol counselor credential. But, after being introduced to recovery coaching, my course seemed to change on its own. I became more focused on recovery support rather than the clinical approach. Working in the treatment and clinical field for several years, I saw the complete lack of recovery support services available for people who were attempting to reintegrate into the community after treatment or a period of incarceration.

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I truly believe that if people had the long-term recovery support they need to help them recover, such as recovery coaching, we would be able to reduce the rates of addiction and overdose by at least half.

Q: What do you find most rewarding about being a peer specialist?

A: The most rewarding thing for me is being able to use the many years of my life that I thought were nothing but a detriment to myself and those around me, and make a difference in the lives of others who are struggling the same way I did. It is an amazing thing to help people find their way in recovery. And, watching people come back to life and become the person they always dreamed of, or thought they could never be, is an amazing thing.

Another rewarding fact is being a trainer for peer specialists in New Jersey. I enjoy empowering people who are in recovery and teaching them how to use their own story and experiences to help others. Finding purpose and employment in recovery can be difficult for many. But, the people who learn about this field and get involved with the work lead amazing and rewarding lives.

Q: What is the recovery community like in New Jersey?

A: There are a lot of people in recovery in New Jersey. At the local level we have strong 12 step communities. We are seeing various recovery support groups being implemented as well, including SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, All Recovery Meetings, & various MARA & MARC groups-for those utilizing medication (medication assisted recovery anonymous and medication assisted recovery community).

We currently have two state funded recovery community centers and are implementing three more. We will eventually have five recovery community centers that are funded by the state, and although we need a lot more, this is a huge win and step forward for New Jersey. We also have many organizations who have their own nonprofit recovery community centers that are not state funded, such as the Middlesex County Recovery Community Center.

Recovery housing is expanding and being more recognized as well. Last year, the state finally adopted legislation and created a new class F license for boarding homes, titled Cooperative Sober Living Homes. This has established a positive pathway for recovery homes to be implemented throughout the state.

Just a year and a half ago an organization in New Jersey received a grant that provided funding to develop a statewide coalition for addiction recovery support named NJ-CARS. NJ-CARS has been working to bring together all organizations and individuals that provide recovery support services. I have been fortunate to be on the advisory board for this group and it has been so inspiring. NJ-CARS is important because New Jersey does not have a statewide Recovery Community Organization (RCO) like many other states. In states with large RCOs, you see them being included or even leading the recovery support movement in their state.

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We have lacked that RCO in New Jersey and we have truly seen the impact in our communities. It has allowed organizations that are not governed or led by people in recovery to direct recovery support funding that comes into the state. At the high level, New Jersey recovery has been poorly represented and actually misrepresented. When people lacking necessary experience get involved, no matter how educated or well intended they are, the conversation is misdirected. Although that is a bit of a tangent, it is relevant to the state of the recovery community in New Jersey.

We do have many other formal recovery communities in New Jersey, including six colleges that have Collegiate Recovery Programs for the students living on campus. New Jersey passed a law that required any institution of higher education with 25% or more of their student population living on campus to provide recovery housing. It is important because these are not just sober dorms, which are typically anything but sober, but actual housing and programming for those in recovery on campus. This is so important because college and campus life can be a “recovery hostile environment.”

New Jersey also has implemented three Recovery High Schools (RHS). I was fortunate to be involved in the first RHS opening and helped to develop a mentorship program for the students. It is encouraging to see these recovery support programs being implemented throughout the state. We would love to see a student go through several successful years at a Recovery High School, then transfer to a Collegiate Recovery Program, and have 8 years of recovery which was supported through available programs in their community. Ideally, we will have these programs available in every county & city for people in need.

Q: What hobbies do you like to participate in outside of work?

A: My free time is quite limited. But, I make time for family, exercise, and relaxing. I make sure that I am exercising about 6 days a week, with strength training and cardio being the main focus. I am looking to incorporate yoga, meditation, mindfulness into my routine for 2019.  I try to spend time at the beach and on the boardwalk enjoying the view and relaxing.

I am also a new father and husband. My daughter Mila just turned one in February and I have been married for 16 months. I have been spending a lot of time just being with my family and enjoying this new chapter in my recovery, by far the best part of it all.

thank you, joel, for all of the amazing work you do for the recovery community!