From Client to Team Member: Peer Specialist Has Big Impact

For the past four and a half years, Denise Bowers has showed up, dedicating her time at Sound’s Belltown facility supporting Sound clients as a peer support specialist in the Clean Start Program. Clean Start is modeled after the “Day Center” concept, providing a place for people to gather, and with it, the chance to be part of a community. Many of the clients, men and women of all ages, ethnicities and life experiences, have struggled with addiction and homelessness in their lives and are on the road to recovery. Clean Start offers these individuals the opportunity to experience fellowship and the company of others. It offers them the chance to enjoy a warm meal, to wash their laundry, to take a shower, to get case management support, or to simply have respite from the outside world. 

With a small case load, and providing overall support, Denise feels at home here, and is a trusted and valued friend to many clients who come through our doors.

“Having this job that impacts lives,” she says proudly, “it means everything. Some days I wake up and go ‘this is not really my life.’”

Sound clinicians applaud her essential part of the team.

 “Denise is such an important presence at Belltown,” says her supervisor, Carmen Wilson. “She is able to meaningfully connect with clients in a way that other staff can’t, which makes a huge difference with Belltown’s hard-to-reach population. It also gives clients hope to see everything she has accomplished – they can identify with her story, and can envision what is possible in their future. Denise often serves as a link between clinical staff and clients. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this link has been vital to maintain contact with clients who we otherwise would’ve lost touch with.”

As a team member with lived experience with addiction, Denise knows a thing or two about the things our clients have experienced. Approximately six years ago, she, herself, was a Sound client. A resident at the Willows House, a unique residential facility that provides case management, mental health and addiction treatment for women in recovery — that also houses their children.

Because she was able to have her children with her while she was there, it really inspired and motivated her to stay the course. Parenting programs and support ensured that she had support along the way.

“It helps you grow,” she says, “most likely into a person you didn’t even know you could  become.”

After undergoing intensive inpatient treatment at another provider, she was accepted into the Willows House program and stayed there for 18 months before graduating (she graduated earlier than the two years required). When she was unexpectedly offered the opportunity at Clean Start, an opportunity to give back through her own lived experience, she took it. For her, the work at Clean Start is meaningful, impactful and very life-affirming work.

“I come from a life of addiction,” she intimates. “I think a lot of them (clients) come to me…because they know I’ve gone through it and that I can hear what they are saying; that I can hear the fear of not being able to stop, the fear of not knowing what’s going on…the fear of not knowing if they are going to have a home anymore, or if they are ever going to get the help they need.”

She believes that sharing her story will help to shed light on services available to people who don’t know about them, or have lost hope for recovery.  

“When I was trying to get off the streets, and begin my recovery, I had no idea what to do,” she says. “I just happened to be pregnant and have two children already. I had no idea where to go other than a hospital. The more resources in the community that we make known to people struggling will benefit those that need the support and don’t know where to go to get it.” 

Sound has featured the Clean Start program, where Denise now works, in a video that is part of Sound’s year-end giving effort. 

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