Program helps Pulaski woman discover new opportunities

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Robin Novotny

By Mike Wade
NRVCS Community Relations Specialist

The negative consequences of addiction are both well-documented and seemingly endless. Incarceration, financial ruin, damaged relationships, and even death, are all among the potential outcomes for a person abusing drugs.

Robin Novotny, a native of Pulaski, has experienced her fair share of struggles as a result of substance use disorder – including jail time – but professional treatment and a glimpse into a life without drugs now has the 55-year-old believing in a future that she was once unable to see.

Novotny is currently participating in NRVCS’ suboxone program, as well as group therapy. She’s been receiving Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) from the agency since November of 2016 and, in spite of a few early “mishaps”, Novotny has now achieved six months of sobriety.

“I’ve had a drug problem for most of my life and it’s caused me to have a couple rounds of legal trouble,” Novotny explains. “I did okay while I was in jail because I couldn’t get [drugs], but when you get out, you’re surrounded by everything that caused you to get locked up in the first place.”

Earlier this year, Novotny’s case manager, Courtney Scherer, told her about a program at Bluefield College (Bluefield, VA) that could potentially help her break the cycle of addiction and legal issues. The New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW) is designed to improve the educational, financial, and personal circumstances of low-income, under-educated, middle-aged women in the Appalachian region.

The New Opportunity School for Women was founded in 1987 by Jane B. Stephenson at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. Stephenson, the wife of John Stephenson, (Berea’s President at the time) created the program to address what she saw as an urgent need to help women in Appalachia become better educated and employed. Bluefield College is the program’s third location. (NOSW operates a second site at Lees-McCrae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.)

“Robin expressed she felt life had passed her by due to her lifestyle while living in Appalachia, but she still very much wanted treatment and to be in recovery,” explains Scherer. “She demonstrated a commitment to treatment and listened to recommendations from staff.”

“Listening takes courage, and to me, Robin demonstrated the courage to listen,” Scherer adds. “Robin also very promptly completed the application for the New Opportunity School and as promptly asked me for a reference to be selected to attend.”

Novotny was one of six women to participate in the Bluefield program from June 4 – 24. The itinerary for each day was jam-packed with activities, typically beginning at 8:00 a.m. and running until late evening. The women participated in creative writing classes, studied Appalachian culture and poetry, made jewelry and painted, enjoyed visiting restaurants and dining out, shopped for clothing and shoes, and even received makeovers.

“They really went all out…they did our hair and our nails and bought us these really nice clothes,” Novotny says. “They made you feel like you mattered, like you were somebody important.”

As part of the program, the women were also given free medical care – including gynecological exams, breast exams, and vision and dental care.

“They couldn’t get my dental exam done while I was there, so I’ll have to go back and do that later,” adds Novotny, “but getting the eye exam and free glasses was great. I never would have been able to afford glasses on my own.”

One of the biggest challenges for Novotny was using the computer. Considering the fact that she doesn’t even own a phone, she says sitting down at a keyboard was an intimidating experience.

“Yeah, I’m completely off the grid,” Novotny adds with a laugh, “I just did the best I could.”

While typing might not have been her strongest skill, Novotny feels the creative writing exercises did help bring a life-long desire to the surface. “I eventually would like to write a book,” says Novotny, who also landed an internship with the college’s library. I’ve always wanted to do that and I think once I learn some more about computers, I might be ready to start doing that.”

Of course, those exercises also required that Novotny reach a level of comfort in being vulnerable around her peers. “It was probably the hardest part of the whole thing, really,” recalls Novotny. “I had a hard time opening up about my own story. My best friend died of an overdose in 1993 and I’d never really talked about that before.”

“The other women were very helpful and supportive, but it brought up a lot of feelings,” she adds. “We cried a little, but we also laughed – a lot!”

Novotny says the experience of participating in the NOSW has given her even more motivation to continue her journey of recovery.

“I would highly recommend this program to anyone,” she says. “It’s been a very good thing for me and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Scherer has also seen the impact of the NOSW program on Novotny. “The many different experiences Robin had during the three-week school have given her more confidence to manage and to improve her life for herself,” Scherer notes. “Robin acknowledges most of her life didn’t change during those three-weeks, but what did change, she has more control over to continue to improve to her satisfaction.”

“Robin has also demonstrated already that you have to ‘give it away, to keep it,’ and by this I mean she is sharing her New Opportunity School experiences to encourage others to enjoy recovery,” adds Scherer.

“I feel really good – this is the longest I’ve been sober in my adult life,” she adds, “and instead of being dead or in jail, I’m alive!”

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