Generally, receptionists have a low-stress job: answer phones, make copies, open the mail. In the addiction recovery world, however, this role is not so laid back. In fact, the job is more like being an emergency room triage nurse than an administrative assistant. Yvonne Oakes learned this lesson while taking calls at an Adult & Teen Challenge center in Arkansas.
“We were getting over 200 phone calls per month, and we could only place a handful of students,” Yvonne said.
Yvonne and her husband, Jimmy, are U.S.-based missionaries spearheading Ready Now Recovery, Adult & Teen Challenge’s community support group ministry. They realized the dire need for this initiative when the center received a particularly distressing call.
“The first group that we started actually came out of a call from the school that was less than five miles down the road,” Yvonne remembers. “They marched out 10 percent of their high school population in a drug raid, and they were desperate for help.”
When the center didn’t have the capacity for the students, Jimmy and Yvonne decided to bring the program to the school. Using classroom space provided by the school, the couple led several kids through a recovery group. This experiment served as the prototype for what would become Ready Now Recovery.
“We saw some lives drastically changed, and they’re still changed today,” Yvonne said.
“Those who were going home from a program didn’t have a support group in some locations. We began to address that situation and how could we resource or begin groups in those locations,” Jimmy said.
“As missionaries, we were going into churches, we were sharing what we were working on, and pastors were saying, ‘We need this in our community.’ So we would partner with the pastors, and we started seeing the effectiveness,” Yvonne recalled.
Soon, that effectiveness was recognized by the ATC National Office, and the Oakeses relocated to Ozark, Missouri, to further develop their model.
Ready Now Recovery is designed to provide greater access to the benefits of ATC’s traditional residential model by inviting participants into a small group context. The groups are specifically tailored for those who cannot or are not yet ready to enter a residential program, and the ministry’s name is taken from Luke 14:17 and 23: “Come, because everything is now ready…Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”
Support groups are not a novel concept. Similar initiatives combatting accessibility to recovery include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Celebrate Recovery.
“We have always felt like Teen Challenge needed to have that as well,” Yvonne said.
During Ready Now’s planning phase, Jimmy and Yvonne sought professional guidance to help guide the ministry’s development.
“We met with a clinical director, and we asked her about the number one barrier to treatment,” Yvonne said. “She told us, ‘You really need to focus on accessibility. How can you make your program accessible in every way to every person?’”
“We wanted to make it as accessible as we possibly could to everyone across the nation,” Jimmy added.
Though ATC’s residential option has one of the highest success rates of any program of its kind, spending 12 to 18 months in a center can present a barrier to recovery for some. Ready Now groups can circumvent these challenges while also raising awareness of ATC’s residential option for those who need the traditional offering.
Some individuals seeking recovery are unable to relocate to a residential program. Others with families and jobs struggle to give up those elements of their lives for the 12- to 18-month program length. In response to these barriers, Ready Now offers both seated and virtual (via the Sober Peer app) groups that meet nightly, weekly, or biweekly for one to one and a half hours.
Likewise, group topics vary based on the needs represented by attendees. Some handle addiction recovery (drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc.), while others provide support for friends and family members of those struggling with addiction. The groups are also structured with affordability in mind, with costs under $25 for attendees.
One of the tools Ready Now uses to improve accessibility is diversified curriculum library. An example is RightNow Media, a Christian streaming platform for Bible studies and devotionals.
“There’s a population that has trouble with literacy,” Jimmy explained. “We tried to address that through using RightNow Media so that they could actually engage in conversations in the groups without feeling inhibited by a possible inability to understand.”
Ready Now has also been intentionally formatted to work with civic institutions where a brick-and-mortar system might have difficulty entering. The ministry’s goal is to see groups started by and in schools, city governments, nonprofits, churches, and other community organizations. In fact, foster parents within the Department of Family Services are already evaluating the possibility of using Ready Now to facilitate family reunification.
“We have about six families across the nation that have been discussing how they can effectively educate biological families, foster families, and kids,” Yvonne said. “We’re providing them materials to help in that process.”
Ready Now also hopes to start groups for the nearly 37 percent of college students struggling with addiction.
“We talking to colleges about getting groups on their campuses,” Yvonne shared. “[Ready Now] is very versatile. We have the opportunity to go a lot of places because it doesn’t require brick and mortar.”
Groups are comprised of 12 or fewer participants with two group facilitators. Though facilitators guide the groups through curriculum, peer-to-peer discussion is the main instigator of growth. Participants share experiences and develop healthy alternatives to substance abuse via interactive learning.
“[Group members] learn from one another through cross-talk,” Jimmy said. “It’s the ability to level the playing field for everyone so that they can learn from one another. The facilitator’s role is primarily to guide conversation.”
Facilitator training is comprised of a six-week online group training experience, including coursework through ATC’s Bridge learning management system and a background check, as well as mandatory annual training. Current facilitators speak positively of the thorough, Christ-centered training process.
“It was a great program; it taught me a lot. I left the course really feeling ready and equipped to be a light to the people coming into the groups,” Noah Parks, an Evangel University student, said.
“I’ve been through some virtual training before, but this has been some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Brian Evans, another facilitator, shared. “One of the things that really spoke to my heart is that Jesus is the one who really has the answer [for those struggling].”
Like Adult & Teen Challenge, Ready Now Recovery is a way to share the freedom of Christ with lost and hurting people.
“Ready Now Recovery’s vision statement is, ‘That every person impacted by life-controlling issues will have access to recovery through Jesus Christ,’” Jimmy said. “We’re casting a wider net so we can help more people get free from those life-controlling issues.”