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AmeriCorps Program Dispatches Community Resource Corps to Headrest

  • Dawn Carbonneau, of Sharon, Vt., holds her hand high during a church service on Aug. 2, 2018, at Riverbank Church in White River Junction, Vt. She is in long-term recovery from alcoholism and feels that she has been called by God to help other people find sobriety. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • AmeriCorps member Dawn Carbonneau, left, works with Lori Bartlett, a vocational specialist at Headrest,in Aug. 3, 2018, in Lebanon, N.H. Carbonneau is at Headrest as part of a program called the Community Resource Corps. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • At their home in Sharon, Vt., Dawn Carbonneau, left, and her daughter Evelyn Walbridge have a few minutes together before heading off to church on Aug. 2, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alex Annunziata puts on a hat Dawn Carbonneau, right, had just given to him while walking into the Riverbank Church for a service on Aug. 2, 2018, in White River Junction, Vt. Carbonneau and Annunziata trained at AmeriCorps together. On the left is Stormey Wilson, Annunziata's partner. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • At her son's home in Sharon, Vt., Dawn Carbonneau, left, and her daughter Evelyn Walbridge prepare food for his lizards, that they were taking care of while he was away on Aug. 2, 2018. Carbonneau is a AmeriCorps member at Headrest. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, August 04, 2018

Lebanon — Earlier this year, a woman walked into Headrest’s outpatient office in the former Women’s Care Center on Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital’s campus seeking assistance.

She came in clutching her stomach, not out of physical discomfort but out of emotional pain. She was living with extended family, including her mother, who didn’t treat her well.

There was no female clinician available that day at Headrest, a Lebanon-based addiction treatment provider that also operates a crisis hotline, but Dawn Carbonneau, a Sharon resident who is in long-term recovery from an addiction to alcohol was there and willing to lend an ear.

“All she needed was somebody to talk to,” said Carbonneau, 57, one of eight participants in AmeriCorps’ Community Resource Corps now working across New Hampshire to help people struggling with addiction and mental illness. Elsewhere in the Upper Valley, AmeriCorps members are working with West Central Behavioral Health in Lebanon and TLC Family Resource Center in Claremont.

Carbonneau listened to the woman’s story and offered her a list of apartments she might consider moving into.

“She was just so grateful that I sat and just talked to her,” Carbonneau said during an interview with the Valley News at Headrest’s Mascoma Street office in early July.

As the woman left, Carbonneau said the relief the woman felt was almost visible.

It was the hope of being able to provide this type of assistance that motivated Carbonneau, a trained veterinary technician who most recently worked caring for mice in research labs at the White River Junction VA Medical Center, to join the Corps.

“I wanted to serve God,” Carbonneau said. “I wanted to help other people.”

Hard-Earned Knowledge

Connecting people with services to treat their mental illnesses and addiction will help improve people’s overall health, said Dr. Peter Mason, a retired Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital primary care physician, who now is working on a regional effort to better integrate addiction and behavioral health treatment into primary care practices. For example, if a person is struggling both with diabetes and depression, she will not be able to follow a care plan to address the diabetes unless her depression is under control, he said.

Broadly, people who can draw upon their own experiences have a lot to offer others who are seeking treatment for addiction and mental illness, said Mason.

“A lot of people have gone to the school of hard knocks,” Mason said. “They have a lot of common sense. ... They can relate very well to recipients of care.”

Carbonneau has lessons she’s learned that she’s ready to share with others. For example, early in her recovery, which began nearly 15 years ago, she met and then married a man who also was newly sober. They recently have separated.

“You grow so much in your sobriety and when you first get sober you don’t know who you are,” she said. “You’re a totally different person and you’re so needy.”

If she had the chance to tell other people in early recovery one thing, she said she would say, “Be true to yourself and not worry about (needing) somebody else.”

Carbonneau’s recovery also has changed her relationships with her children. When she was drinking and smoking marijuana, she and her sons would party together, she said. Her older son recently told her that he felt he lost a friend when she got sober.

“It’s kind of hard to grasp,” she said. “You change, but that doesn’t mean those people around you change and understand how you changed.”

Being at Headrest and working with others in recovery is a return, of sorts, to the early days of her own recovery. Beginning in about 2003, she brought 12-step meetings to the Windsor prison, when there still were women housed there.

“I just loved helping them, loving on them; learning a little bit about their stories and their strengths,” she said.

When the young women left the prison, Carbonneau bought them books such as Chicken Soup for the Soul and inscribed them with a note, “If nobody has told you today that they love you, I do.”

That work also helped her to see gaps in the system. In particular, she noted that many of the women she worked with were serving out sentences in prison because they had nowhere else to go.

When the Windsor prison stopped taking women in January 2009, Carbonneau said, she was “heartbroken.”

“My dream from that point on was I wanted to see if I could ever do a halfway house for women,” she said.

In the years since the prison closed, some of the women have reconnected with Carbonneau via Facebook to tell her how she helped them.

“They look like they have good lives,” she said.

Helping Others

When a fellow parishioner of Riverbank Church gave Carbonneau a flyer describing the AmeriCorps program she saw it as an opportunity to get back to helping others. She applied, was accepted and together with the other seven participants took part in a training at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center this winter.

In addition to being the first face people see when they walk in the door, Carbonneau’s job includes answering the phone, calling patients to remind them of appointments and doing intake screenings of new patients. The screenings usually take about 15 minutes and include questions about patients’ substance use and treatment history, mental and physical health and legal history.

“That gives clinicians a baseline of where to go from there,” she said.

She also spends time helping people sort out insurance issues. In some cases, she has walked patients through the process of signing up for Medicaid and helping people get into inpatient treatment.

As a result of Carbonneau’s presence, the organization is beginning to offer “open access” hours. Between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, Carbonneau is available to do intake screenings and then help get people in to see clinicians, she said.

“She’s been a wonderful addition for sure,” said Cameron Ford, Headrest’s executive director.

The small nonprofit is always looking for ways to expand, he said. Headrest opened the Mascoma Street location for outpatient services in February, in preparation for adding four more inpatient beds to its Church Street site. The beds were filled quickly, and the organization has a waiting list of 15 to 20 people.

In addition, the crisis hotline the organization runs also has been busy. The hotline saw a spike in suicide-related calls between May and June, going from 92 to 162. Ford attributes the spike, at least in part, to the June suicide deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

During this busy time, Carbonneau has enabled the organization to examine its intake and billing processes, Ford said. In doing so, she is helping to develop a job description for a permanent post, perhaps one that Carbonneau herself could fill.

“I think it’s a much needed position,” Ford said.

Carbonneau is hopeful that she’s working toward a permanent position. Taking the AmeriCorps position has required some sacrifice. AmeriCorps members in this program earn $1,000 per month in a stipend, which Carbonneau said is enough to pay her rent and car insurance. At the end of the year, she’ll receive an educational award of $6,000, which she plans to put toward some outstanding college loans. At the VA, she was making nearly $6,000 per month, an amount that included her salary and other benefits such as health insurance and retirement.

On the day Carbonneau spoke, she had just received a call from her therapist that she was expected to pay an outstanding $275 bill at her next appointment. Her health insurance has a $3,000 deductible, she said.

“I don’t have $275,” she said. “... I came in today thinking I don’t know why I bother.”

Carbonneau’s financial challenges come as she already faces stress related to switching jobs and her recent separation from her husband. She now is living with her adult daughter.

“I do struggle,” she said.

Despite the personal challenges, however, Carbonneau said, “I still feel like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Christine Dyke, program director of Americorps at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which is managing the AmeriCorps grant for the program, said Carbonneau and her fellow program members have all made sacrifices in order to participate.

“They have done some very brave things,” she said.

But, she said, it’s an opportunity for them to get into this field, develop skills that may qualify them for future jobs and to make a difference. In the approximately six months since the program began, Dyke said the members have helped 400 people across the state and connected them with 100 services that they hadn’t been connected to before.

“That’s what we’re really measuring,” she said.

As she waits to see if Headrest will hire her for a permanent position, Carbonneau’s plans include taking the test to become a certified recovery coach. Later on, she said, she may consider becoming a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor.

She also hasn’t lost her dream of one day opening a halfway house for women.

“I want to empower somebody else,” she said. “Life can get better.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.