Divine Intervention hosts “Together We Can Stop the Stigma” to discuss how stigma attached to addiction affects those struggling with and recovering from addiction
Delta Digital News Service
Friday, Dec. 1, 2023
By Avery Jones | Editor
JONESBORO, Ark. – NEA Divine Intervention, a peer community center for those struggling with addiction, hosted a conference with various similar organizations around the state. The conference was called Together We Can Stop the Stigma, and its intention was to discuss and combat the kind of stigmas that are attached to addiction.
The conference was held at Embassy Suites in Jonesboro on September 11 from 9 AM to 4 PM. Several organizations that deal with addiction were in attendance. There were also several people scheduled to speak, as well as a few panels. Refreshments and lunch were provided.
The speakers included Chief Operating Officer Tony Thomas on behalf of the mayor, discussing community support; Casey Copeland, a peer recovery specialist on The Arkansas Peer Advisory Committee for the DHS Recovery Unit, discussing the beginnings of peer support in Arkansas; and Paula Cunningham, who had a son now deceased of an overdose, discussing prevention and recovery.
The discussion panels included Difficult Questions, a Q&A provided by people working in recovery programs; Surviving the Other Side, a conversation from some who have grown up around people who have struggled with addiction; and Fighting for the Right to Belong, perspectives from those who are in recovery and advocating for themselves and others like them.
Some organizations in attendance were Arisa Health, NewVision Withdrawal Management, Longbranch Recovery Center, Engaging Arkansas Communities, and the Wolf Street Foundation. Many of these organizations had set up tables outside the convention room to introduce themselves and their services. All of them had worked with Divine Intervention or the director at some point.
“In my line of work, I come across a lot of different types of people from a lot of different types of backgrounds,” said Kimberly Nail of Engaging Arkansas Communities. “I just want to be able to help anyone I can and share my lived experience.”
Shalinda Woolbright, the director of NEA Divine Intervention and the host of the event, said she originally wanted to arrange an event called “Recovery in the Streets,” but because she didn’t want to wait on approval from the mayor’s office, she decided to do something different.
Her original intention was to gather different recovery resources from around the community so that others could benefit, but the result transformed into something new. This is the first time that Divine Intervention has hosted an event of this type. Woolbright hopes to learn from this event for next year.
“I have been doing this for the last six years, and I have ran into a lot of stigma. To the point where somebody made the statement, ‘Well, maybe they need to die.’ Another statement, ‘They just need to grow up,’” Woolbright said.
“I have been doing this for the last six years, and I have ran into a lot of stigma. To the point where somebody made the statement, ‘Well, maybe they need to die.’ Another statement, ‘They just need to grow up.’”
– Shalinda Woolbright, the director of NEA Divine Intervention
Woolbright believes that this kind of stigma comes from a lack of knowledge. With this event, she wanted to bring knowledge to the table, not just from recovering addicts but also from families of these addicts. She hopes that if people see the issue from the family’s side, they would have more empathy and compassion.
The inspiration for the event was an article written by Paula Cunningham in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Nov. 12, 2018, titled “The last heartbeat.” The mother writes about how her son became consumed with addiction, and now she’s watching him die of an opioid overdose.
However, the main point of the article was that her son had faced so much shame and stigma, and Cunningham, one of the speakers at the event, wants to be the voice for her son that will fight this stigma. Copies of this article were printed out and laid on every table in the convention room for everyone to read.
NEA Divine Intervention in Jonesboro is a nonprofit organization that has been providing support and resources to anyone struggling with addiction, mental illness, and intellectual disabilities since 2021. They essentially help these people to get back on their feet with jobs, housing, and treatment.
Woolbright is in long-term recovery herself, so she knows what others like her struggle with and why it’s so difficult to recover and get back on your feet. The purpose of her organization is to help others face those struggles with better support and resources at their disposal.
“Honestly, I found it to be so overwhelming to have a record, look for a job, ask for help, go back to school, and I just crashed and burned so many times,” Woolbright said. “The purpose is to walk alongside somebody that’s going through the same thing that I’ve been through so that they won’t have to go through the struggles that I did and so that they will be given an option to…start recovery and not become overwhelmed and stressed out and give up.”
Divine Intervention hosts other community events as well and connects with people to make themselves known to those who need help. They meet with people from probation and parole, drug court, DHS, and other places where those struggling with drugs and mental illnesses might be.
They have hosted free haircuts, homeless drives where they give away care packages, art therapy, a “Grill ‘n Chill” with an art contest and dancing, and a back-to-school event in August where they gave away free backpacks for kids.
Mary Tolliver, a volunteer, came to Divine Intervention also because she was struggling to find a place to live. She has been working with them for about four or five months because she wants to give back.
“To see somebody be able to get jobs that they haven’t been able to or to find homes…it’s a sense of satisfaction,” Tolliver said. “You get to watch that here because [Divine Intervention] offers so many services to help people do that.”
Note: Feature photo shows Shalina Woolbright speaking.
NEA Divine Intervention hosts conference to fight stigma. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council