PARKADE: Phoenix Programs aims to 'make noise' and raise community awareness

Monday, September 26, 2011 | 1:41 p.m. CDT; updated 4:09 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Heather Harlan, a prevention specialist for Phoenix Programs Inc., stands beside the "Prevention Possibilities" mural, created by the outreach program's participants. Participants followed the prompt, "Maybe if..." and continued the phrase based on their own anonymous, personal experiences. The mural will hang in the front lobby of the facility as a component of events scheduled for Recovery Month.

COLUMBIA — When Phoenix Programs Inc. opened a treatment facility a year ago for clients with substance-use disorders, it had wavering support from the surrounding Parkade neighborhood.

In the interim, the program at 90 E. Leslie Lane has deliberately addressed the perception of a halfway house by planning neighborhood events and other outreach efforts.

Upcoming Events

Phoenix Programs is holding a series of events during Recovery Month, all of which are "recovery and family friendly," in order to better serve the community.

  • Sept 15-30: "Prevention Possibilities" mural display in the Phoenix Programs lobby
  • Sept. 29: "Lunch 'n' Learn: Your Brain on Change," at Phoenix Programs, from noon to 1 p.m.

More details are available to the public by contacting Phoenix Programs at 573-875-8880 or

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Slowly, the community has become more accepting, according to Paul Love, the president of the Parkade Neighborhood Association.

By "making waves" in the community, more people will become aware of the treatments available and be able to get the help they need, said Heather Harlan, a prevention specialist with Phoenix Programs Inc.

The facility held a fundraising event last Thursday at Parkade Center, with entertainment and educational programs. Upcoming events include a "Lunch 'n' Learn: Your Brain on Change" on Thursday, and an ongoing "Prevention Possibilities" mural display at the facility.

The information will help dispel misconceptions that people have of substance use and the recovery process, Harlan said.

"If people don’t get help for chronic illnesses, it's not because they’re ashamed of it," she said, referring to the prejudices and misunderstandings often associated with substance-use disorders.

Individuals who have these disorders are part of an invisible population in many communities, one that exists regardless of neighborhood, social, economic or employment lines, Harlan said.

"Years ago, people wouldn't use the word 'cancer' — now those people are regarded as survivors. We recognize people for that, we hail them," she said. "But for people in recovery with substance-use disorders, we’re quiet about it."

Since it opened, the facility has served 1,875 clients — 208 adolescents, 346 families and 78 veterans.

The current location consolidated smaller treatment centers run by Phoenix Programs around Columbia, which allowed it to expand its services.

"We have expanded our outpatient treatment options for women and youth, even in the face of budget cuts," according to the Phoenix Programs' 2010 annual report.

As participants progress through treatment, there is no longer a need to change locations or counselors, allowing for a more cohesive process, Harlan said.

Though she lists several benefits for placing a facility like this in a residential area — namely easy accessibility and visibility within the community — neighbors have not been shy about voicing their concerns.

When plans began for the facility, Love said he personally "wasn't thrilled," but he recognizes now that "it's just a lot of people hoping to get their lives back together."

Love said residents initially asked why it had to be in their backyards, with concerns over property values and crime rates.

Those concerns might have been overstated, he said. He noted that he hasn't received complaints recently and credits that to people becoming used to the idea of the facility being nearby.

"We all know that it has to be done, and we know it's good for the community as a whole. [Participants] realize they’ve got a problem and are trying to fix it — that's to be respected," Love said. "No one intends to go out and get hooked on drugs. It's a long road for them, and the fact that they also are looked down upon by a segment of the community doesn’t help," he said.

Community support can lead to deeper levels of understanding about substance-use disorders and the treatment and recovery process, Harlan said.

She pointed to a large mural hanging in the stairwell at the facility, and explained that ceramics students at MU created it. For the project, students interviewed program participants and put their words on ceramic tiles.

On the tiles are statements such as these: "I won’t waste any time looking back." "I did what scared me." "I want to have a fulfilling career." "I want to have a good family."

At the end of the project, students looked back and realized everyone has similar  goals — careers, family, a peaceful life, Harlan said.

"This gives them voice," she said.

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