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“Addiction is the opposite of connection,” said Damien Browning, a former addict and the executive director of Steps to Recovery.

It is one of his favorite mantras and the animating philosophy behind the Cottonwood-based addiction recovery and housing program. In Browning’s view, the problem is often less the drugs than the environmental factors that lead to a person using, and the way to help them overcome their demons is to help them find connections and meaning in a community.

So the pandemic and lockdowns of the spring 2020 meant a new challenge for the program. With some of the clients suffering from compromised immune systems, the sober living home locked down early, before official shutdown orders.The 14 residents of the home were stuck with just each other and unable to go out, also losing many of the counseling and job training features of the recovery program. The Miracles Happen resale store that provides much of the funding for the program as well as employment for many of the former addicts had to lay off most of its staff.“There was some depression. There was a lot of fear, not knowing what was going to happen, when it was going to end,“ said Anji Dickson, a manager at the store and former addict who went through the program herself. Dickson said that without the job that had given her life structure, the temptation to relapse was powerful. “For most addicts — I know for myself — idle hands are [the devil’s playthings] …. Being by myself all the time was tough.”

But facing the challenge, the program also sought to find new solutions, to build new connections to fight addiction. Steps to Recovery partnered with the Northern Arizona Healthcare Foundation and Tribe Wellness in Sedona to provide their clients with telemedicine and remote counseling. But they also started holding their own 12-step meetings outside together in the yard. Browning bought sports and games equipment for the people at the home, as well as food to cook together and make meals inside for those who could not leave.

“We were actually blessed by them being able to have a community, because a lot of people — especially our older population — haven’t had that,” Browning said. “It was actually a blessing for our clients because they were around people. They weren’t totally isolated in a situation where they weren’t around people. Since they were around each other anyways, we kind of kept it as a group.”

“It was hard, but at the same time, it was easy, because of the support we had,” said Rafael Garcia, a recovered methamphetamine addict. Garcia, who had been in and out of prison for a total of 12 years of his life, joined the Steps to Recovery program shortly before the pandemic hit. “It wasn’t like we were just locked down and then they fed us to the wolves or kept us locked down. We found things to do as a group. Personally to me, I think the lock- down helped more in the recovery, because we were locked down with each other. We got to run our own meetings, and by running our own meetings, every- body got to share, and everybody got to know each other, rather than an open meeting, where they’re all quiet.”

During the time when the store was closed, Miracles Happen continued to accumulate used furniture from estate sales and donations, without being able to sell as much. With the recovery clients stuck inside, Dickson and Browning saw an opportunity to improve their furniture resale operation in a way they had always dreamed of — by turning it into a full refurbishment operation.

Rather than just selling old furniture, Steps to Recovery is now teaching its clients how to fully remake furniture based on the pieces that they receive. Shelves are added, legs are attached to replace broken ones, and sometimes entire pieces are cut up and put back together to fit a completely new shape and purpose. Former addicts have learned how to sand, paint, lacquer and carve to turn old pieces into brand new furniture with new aesthetics.

“Each of them did what they enjoyed the most,” Dickson said. “When we come in here, we do not feel good about ourselves at all, because all we’ve done is screwed everything up. So to be able to go in and make something — it’s very symbolic when you think about it. We took stuff that was broken. All of us that came in here were broken. And now we’re fixing things and then we’re able to able to help support them.”

The refurbishment project has transformed the resale store, which can now sell what is essentially brand new, high end furniture with unique visual style. For Garcia, who had always enjoyed art but has now risen to an assistant manager of the ware- house where he paints lavish designs on the side of new pieces of furniture, it has created a new purpose out of a time of difficult struggle.

“To actually be able to do something like this, and someone liking it, makes you want to do it more. It gets you more creative on how to mix colors and how to make something, even build something out of nothing,” Garcia said. “Being in the program, being clean — I’ve got money in my pocket, I’ve got my own place, I’m able to budget. I’m never broke, I’m not sleeping on the streets. Just waking up and coming to work, it gives me a purpose to stay clean.”

Pass by the Clemenceau Plaza at the northwest corner of State Route 89A and S. Sixth Street in Cottonwood, and you might notice an uptick in activity.

Now in its fourth month in the historic plaza, Steps to Recovery Homes has fully opened its door to the community. Founders Damien and Anne Browning welcome applicants to its addiction recovery program and help train volunteers. At Miracles Happen, the nonprofit’s resale store two doors down, current and former participants in the recovery program sort, pick up, label and sell used items.

“Everybody who works for us has been through the program,” Damien Browning said, adding that the average stay in the program is under three months. “Accountability is huge with us …. We expect a lot of them, so some people come and then leave after a few days.”According to Browning, Steps to Recovery Homes has recently downgraded the size of its gender-specific homes to accommodate fewer guests, achieving a higher success rate through personal care and relationship building. The Brownings oversee two Cottonwood homes, one that houses eight men and another that houses five women.The resale store, however, marks a major upgrade for the nonprofit. Previously, the store sat in a less accessible spot near Old Town. Now, the operation encompasses three storefronts, offering increased visibility for Steps to Recovery Homes and allowing for the sale of more items. Additionally, an increase in items coming in allows the Brownings to provide clothing for those in recovery and donate to other charities.Reinvigorating the plaza through good business practices is also on the Brownings’ minds.“We’re trying to wake it up again, man,” Damien Browning said. “We’re trying to do high-end stuff for low prices for the community …. And it’s all donation based.”The underlying purpose remains recovery, Browning added. To that end, Steps to Recovery Homes now features a working governing board. Recently, it became a founding member of the Verde Valley Tax Credit Coalition to promote charitable tax donations. Over the summer, the organization hosted a mental health and addiction community awareness event, inviting local experts to talk on the issue.“A lot of people don’t understand addiction,” Browning said. “The stigma needs to be erased. It’s not something to be scared of …. And these people — they don’t need a handout, but a hand up.”According to Browning, Steps to Recovery Homes is focused on long-term solutions to addiction, which he claimed is on the rise throughout the Verde Valley. Affordable options for individuals with addictions are few and far between, he added, making it difficult to address the issue in a sustainable way.“We’re trying to raise the bar for recovery in the Verde Valley,” Browning said.To donate to Steps to Recovery Homes or volunteer your time, call 649-0077 or stop by the office located in Clemenceau Plaza.

Pass by the Clemenceau Plaza at the northwest corner of State Route 89A and S. Sixth Street in Cottonwood, and you might notice an uptick in activity.

Now in its fourth month in the historic plaza, Steps to Recovery Homes has fully opened its door to the community. Founders Damien and Anne Browning welcome applicants to its addiction recovery program and help train volunteers. At Miracles Happen, the nonprofit’s resale store two doors down, current and former participants in the recovery program sort, pick up, label and sell used items.

“Everybody who works for us has been through the program,” Damien Browning said, adding that the average stay in the program is under three months. “Accountability is huge with us …. We expect a lot of them, so some people come and then leave after a few days.”According to Browning, Steps to Recovery Homes has recently downgraded the size of its gender-specific homes to accommodate fewer guests, achieving a higher success rate through personal care and relationship building. The Brownings oversee two Cottonwood homes, one that houses eight men and another that houses five women.The resale store, however, marks a major upgrade for the nonprofit. Previously, the store sat in a less accessible spot near Old Town. Now, the operation encompasses three storefronts, offering increased visibility for Steps to Recovery Homes and allowing for the sale of more items. Additionally, an increase in items coming in allows the Brownings to provide clothing for those in recovery and donate to other charities.Reinvigorating the plaza through good business practices is also on the Brownings’ minds.“We’re trying to wake it up again, man,” Damien Browning said. “We’re trying to do high-end stuff for low prices for the community …. And it’s all donation based.”The underlying purpose remains recovery, Browning added. To that end, Steps to Recovery Homes now features a working governing board. Recently, it became a founding member of the Verde Valley Tax Credit Coalition to promote charitable tax donations. Over the summer, the organization hosted a mental health and addiction community awareness event, inviting local experts to talk on the issue.“A lot of people don’t understand addiction,” Browning said. “The stigma needs to be erased. It’s not something to be scared of …. And these people — they don’t need a handout, but a hand up.”According to Browning, Steps to Recovery Homes is focused on long-term solutions to addiction, which he claimed is on the rise throughout the Verde Valley. Affordable options for individuals with addictions are few and far between, he added, making it difficult to address the issue in a sustainable way.“We’re trying to raise the bar for recovery in the Verde Valley,” Browning said.To donate to Steps to Recovery Homes or volunteer your time, call 649-0077 or stop by the office located in Clemenceau Plaza.

Erase the Stigma, Steps to Recovery Homes’ second annual mental health and addiction awareness event, took place at the Cottonwood Recreation Center Saturday, June 24, attracting people from across the region.

The event, which was free and open to the public, featured 28 resource booths from advocacy, charity and health care-related organizations. Food, drinks and day passes to the rec center were handed out to attendees for free.

Steps to Recovery Homes co-founder Damien Browning estimated the turnout at approximately 175 people.“I think it went very well,” Browning said, adding that the event was intended to be a service to the community — a benefit for rural Arizona, which continues to struggle with addiction and mental illness, as well as the stigma attached to those who suffer from the conditions.“It was a win-win for everybody.”The event featured seven experts speaking on subjects including grief, trauma and community awareness.“Forty-two million people suffer from mental illness and 24 million suffer from addiction every day in this nation, and the stigma surrounding these illnesses keeps them living in the dark, suffering alone,” Browning said. “Solutions are available. However, first we need to give them the strength to reach out and resources to turn to.”The city of Cottonwood placed its resources behind the event, endorsing Browning’s efforts by waving the rec center’s usual rental and setup fees for the event. Founded by couple Damien and Anne Browning, Steps to Recovery Homes is in its fourth year of operation.The Brownings oversee two Cottonwood homes, one that houses eight men and another that houses five women. Last year, the operation packed up and moved to its office in Clemencau Plaza.At the Steps to Recovery Homes office, founders Damien and Anne Browning welcome applicants to its addiction recovery program and help train volunteers. At Miracles Happen, the nonprofit’s resale store two doors down, current and former participants in the recovery program sort, pick up, label and sell used items.“Steps to Recovery Homes witnesses the battle every single day and is hosting Erase the Stigma event in collaboration with many other organizations in Arizona who are committed to helping those who suffer with mental health problems and addiction,” Damien Browning said. “The more we, as a society, understand the unique challenges of mental health and addiction the more we can all help those that have these issues and the safer our communities will become.”In the wake of Erase the Stigma, Browning said he has received a number of requests from organizations across Northern Arizona to host similar events.“This is about helping our whole community,” Browning said, adding that he recently evaluated Steps to Recovery Homes’ yearly statistics and was pleased by the outcome. “Out of 245 people
that have come into our program, 48 percent are leading a better life … That’s making a core difference.”Browning invites parties interested in volunteer opportunities to stop by Steps to Recovery Homes at 516 State Route 89A, or contact Browning at (928) 592-2603.