Education has long been a part of the treatment plan at Odyssey House. Our Vocational Rehabilitation Services, in partnership with the New York City Department of Education and Project Restart, provides on-site educational services available to all residential clients and administers the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) five times a year.
Education opens a lot of doors. But for our clients, who come to us struggling with substance use disorders and a host of additional challenges, earning a high school equivalency diploma is not easy to achieve.
They may come to us following periods of incarceration; some may have learning disabilities; some may be dealing with the threat of losing their children to the foster care system. Others are dealing with mental health issues on top of their substance use disorders; some have taken the test many times but have been unable to achieve a passing score and the fear of failure is always present in their minds. Some have not sat in a classroom for years, even decades. All of them have to overcome the effects of years of drug use.
Facing all these challenges, how do they do it? For many of our clients, it is the desire to achieve a goal that has eluded them in adolescence or throughout their adult lives and the understanding that educational attainment and meaningful work play important roles in helping people achieve lasting recovery.
To celebrate their achievements in the face of these challenges, we hold an annual commencement ceremony for our graduates. This year’s keynote speaker Whittaker Wright, director of employment and education at Lantern Community Services, and former Odyssey House Director of Vocational Services, encouraged the graduates to reflect on their journey: “Take a minute to remember this moment and be proud of it. Then build on your accomplishment, and use this momentum to further your recovery.”
Matika dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with her first child. Soon after, she took classes and took the GED test twice but failed. Then she gave up. By the time she came to Odyssey House ten years later, pregnant with her third child, she was ready to try again.
“I have to set the bar for them so they can achieve greatness. They deserve this. I deserve this,” she said. Matika is starting classes to become a certified nursing assistant this fall, with a goal to become a registered nurse. “Odyssey House is only a stepping stone. My journey isn’t over.”
The last place Koheim wanted to be was in treatment, but when he came to Odyssey House, he came with a plan – a plan to turn his life around. “I didn’t want to my kids to grow up thinking I was just an addict,” he said. So he enrolled in our TASC classes and got to work. Since earning his diploma, Koheim has trained to become a certified recovery coach and peer advocate and now works as a counselor in Brooklyn. “Everything I learned here is integral to being the counselor I am today,” he said.