For lighting the way with a compassionate, dignified and holistic approach to providing substance use disorder treatment while supporting both individuals and families in recovery, Director of SOS Recovery Community Organization John Burns was honored with a 2018 Lighting the Way Award during Hope on Haven Hill’s Annual Winter Gala held recently at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel.
“John is right there on the front lines every day. He is available 24/7 to support others. So many voices would not be heard without him,” said Sharon Drake, executive director of Hope on Haven Hill.
While he couldn’t attend the gala, Kevin Irwin, regional director of the IDN Network, echoed Drake’s remarks in a written statement in the Gala program.
“I have always admired John for his tireless dedication to creating recovery communities and supporting anyone and everyone on their road to recovery,” said Irwin in his statement. “But this fall my admiration for John reached a new high. John eloquently responded to a small group who created a petition against the SOS Rochester location. He turned a conflict into an opportunity to educate and fight the stigma that still surrounds substance use addiction.”
Both Drake and Irwin stated that the list of committees and activities that Burns spearheads and supports was too extensive to list, but that it is his commitment to system change, his indefatigable dedication to fight stigma and his relentless advocacy for recovery housing that clearly shows why Burn’s is truly one who is “Lighting the Way.”
In his acceptance remarks, Burns challenged those in attendance to embrace people with substance use disorder, to think outside the box and find new ideas and collaborate as a community as to how we speak of substance use disorder and treat people with this disease.
“The stigma of addiction comes primarily from treating those who struggle with alcohol and drugs as less than. By labeling people, by punishing a health condition, by making them criminals, by treating people we in this room love as the lepers of our society,” said Burns. “As a society we dehumanize them, and when they become so disconnected and defeated, we use that as evidence that they aren’t worthy of treatment or capable of recovery. In this room, we know those who struggle need love, they need empathy, they need connections and they need a purpose.
“If we ever hope to get ahead of this, we need collaboration, we need connection and a community that embraces and loves those who struggle. We need us to connect them so we aren’t attending funerals,” he continued.
Burns pointed to Hope on Haven Hill as an example of thinking outside the box and how through the determination and dedication of its founders and community collaboration – a dream became a reality.
Burns said a few weeks after meeting Kerry Norton, a cofounder of Hope on Haven Hill; she called him to tell him about a house she wanted to turn a house into a treatment center.
“She was determined. I got off the phone and I remember thinking ‘Wow! That would be awesome – and that she’s bat shit crazy and I don’t know that it can be done,’” said Burns. “But I loved it, because, well…I’m also bat shit crazy.”
Burns said while many people may have doubted at first that Hope on Haven Hill would come to be, the idea did indeed come to fruition.
“My point of all this is that Hope on Haven Hill came from an out of the box, creative idea, followed by collaboration. And it continues to be a collaboration of everyone in this room and beyond. It came from an idea that most everyone, including myself, thought was probably close to impossible,” said Burns. “We need more 'Kerry' ideas. Whether we are in prevention, or treatment, or recovery or whether we are simply an ally, we need to do more and think out of the box more. We need to find partners and work together. The status quo hasn’t worked. Let’s change it and be creative.”