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Each month we feature a peer specialist to recognize and celebrate their amazing efforts within the community. This month we are introducing you to Kara, a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and dedicated recovery advocate. Check out her interview below!

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: My name is Kara Richardson and I am a person in long-term recovery. I personally struggled with addiction for most of my life and now I am grateful to say I have been clean and sober from ALL mood-altering chemicals for over 4 years.

Several years ago I founded Next Step Recovery, a mentoring program that helps others who struggle with substance use disorder find their “Next Steps” into recovery. We never want anyone in recovery to feel alone. We have a Facebook page and host recovery events in the community where we teach addicts how to have fun in recovery.  

I have the amazing pleasure of working as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) at Wellcome Manor Family Services in Garden City, Minnesota. I am also a CPRS at the Blue Earth County Drug Court and Family Dependency Treatment Court in Mankato, MN.

I am a recovery advocate and go above and beyond to help anyone struggling with addiction. I know what it’s like to feel alone, so I try to ensure that our newcomers never feel that way. I have been to the Capitol several times to advocate for change and to end the stigma by showing others that we do recover. I am also a mother, a sister, and a friend.

I wouldn’t change my path for anything and will always do my best to remain humble.

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Q: What inspired you to become a peer specialist?

A: The thing that inspired me the most was the need for change, especially my desire to change the way addicts are judged. Countless addicts die every day and I realized the current system wasn’t working. I started showing up outside of courtrooms, jails and treatment centers to offer my support where it may be needed.   

Q: Where were you trained to be a specialist and what was your favorite part of the experience?

A: I was trained through Recovery is Happening in Waverly, MN with Tiffany Hunsley and was certified through the Minnesota Certification Board. My favorite part of being trained by Tiffany was that she taught us that we have a voice, and most importantly, how to use it. There is a time and a place for us to be anonymous but many places where our personal voice needs to be heard.

I have also attended additional trainings focused on SMART recovery, trauma and co-occurring disorders. I try to attend as many trainings as possible!

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

A: I try not to look at my job as rewarding, but instead I see it as a gift that I am able to share with the men and women I work with. I can’t describe the feeling I get when I can share my story with someone who is just entering the program. This person may be ready to walk out, but after talking with me, they decide to stay and give the program a chance.

I also try to remember that we are here to plant seeds and hopefully watch them grow.

Q: What advice would you give to a new peer specialist just entering the field?

A: My advice is, “Don’t give up” and “Find your voice and use it.” Peer specialists are professionals who have unique experiences and go through a different type of training. But, in my opinion, our training and experiences are extremely valuable. We struggled with addiction and now it’s our turn to show the world that we don’t have to die from it. We are here to stand up and educate others about the stigma that still exists.

Q: Where do you see the peer specialist field heading over the next five years?

A: I am hopeful peer specialists will show that we, the addicts, have been the missing link for helping others reach recovery.

I know there will be ups and downs with state funding, but if we continue to prove our value, there shouldn’t be any problems. I believe that every institute including school districts, emergency rooms, crisis centers, treatment courts, treatment centers, and sober houses should have a peer specialist on staff.

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

A: My biggest hobby right now is being a mom and I enjoy every minute of it.

THANK YOU, KARA, FOR ALL OF THE AMAZING work YOU DO AS A PEER RECOVERY SPECIALIST!