- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - When 31-year-old St. Albans native Ashley Keiffer found herself in jail for the 16th time, her big plan when she got out was to land a job at a fast-food restaurant.

“It was really kind of silly,” Keiffer said with a laugh.

Instead, when she got out, she found herself right back where she started - strung out on meth.

“When I got out, I had people putting dope in my lap and I was high for four days,” Keiffer said. “I just hit my rock bottom and reached out. I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to go back to jail. I don’t want to be high anymore, but I was high out of my mind. I was ready.”

Now 10 months sober, Keiffer’s big plan is to help others in their recovery. She was one of 12 students from across the state to graduate Monday from Recovery Point of Huntington’s PR (peer recovery) Credential class. It was the fifth class to complete the program since beginning in 2014.

The PR credential offered through the West Virginia Certification Board for Addiction and Prevention Professionals is a benchmark for those who wish to help others via a role as a recovery coach or peer support professional.

The credential requires 46 clock hours of education in specific domains including boundaries and ethics, along with 25 hours of supervision and 500 hours of experience. The credential is valid for two years from issuance and requires continuing education classes during those two years in order to be renewed.

Students also learned about such topics as motivational interviewing, trauma-informed care, core competencies of peer support and the history of addiction and recovery.

Recovery Point’s PR credential education is offered via a distance-learning platform provided by the West Virginia Behavioral Healthcare Providers Association in Charleston. Live classes originate from the association’s offices, and students attend those live classes via the Internet, in real time, using a secure teleconferencing setup. The program’s structure enables the course to reach students in any area of the state that has Internet service.

Greg Perry, project coordinator at Recovery Point and course instructor, said the need for peer recovery coaches will continue to grow in the state and beyond.

“We are starting to see recovery coaches becoming a little bit more popular here in the state,” Perry said. “As the recovery movement grows, especially peer recovery, we are starting to see them pop up in health care facilities, hopefully coming soon to drug courts. Really the future is wide open for people with lived experience with addiction and alcoholism and the recovery that comes after that.”

Matt Boggs, executive director of Recovery Point, said the program has exceeded expectations so far. The program has trained 56 coaches across the state.

“We want the help in West Virginia to be there, and a key element is having workers in a workforce able to provide that necessary peer support from day one,” Boggs said. “Then from day one, carry that one through after care.”

As a peer recovery coach himself, Perry said the most fulfilling moments are those when he helps someone like himself.

“Just recently, I took a client out to Mountwest Community College and got him enrolled in college - something that was impossible a year before,” Perry said. “That was one peer helping another peer trying to navigate that. That’s the real paycheck, and I hope you all get that paycheck.”

Keiffer said she decided to take the course after she graduated from the Lifehouse, a sober-living community in Huntington.

“I’ve lived a hard life, but once I got to the Lifehouse I saw how they help people and I want to help people,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be out there hurt, helpless, lonely and ashamed. It’s not easy. I just like helping people. It makes me feel good.”

Keiffer said she was addicted to methamphetamine for 17 of her 31 years. She said it destroyed her life.

“I’m just starting to build it back up,” she said. “I’ve been sober for 10 months, which is a very big deal to me because I’ve never been sober longer than two months.”

She said she knows what it is like to feel hopeless, but she’s ready to help someone recover from that feeling.

“I hope I can give them what I’ve been given,” Keiffer said. “Peer support - it’s very important in the recovery world, to focus on the solution instead of the problem.”

For more information about the PR credential course, contact Recovery Point of Huntington at 304-523-4673.

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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