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The national voice for recovery stands at a crossroads

December 1, 2014
by Alison Knopf, Contributing Writer
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Faces & Voices board chair Richard Buckman

The national advocacy and recovery community organization Faces & Voices of Recovery, which this year celebrated its 25th anniversary, is in the midst of personnel changes and an organizational merger, with sources telling Addiction Professional that the loss of its former executive director Pat Taylor has been a bruising one.

Taylor, who resigned abruptly in February, had led the grassroots organization to the top circles of power in the policy-making arena. She was always there to say, “What about people in recovery or seeking recovery from addiction?” Now, it’s unclear who from Faces & Voices will be in Washington to raise that question.

Back in October, Faces & Voices board chair Richard Buckman sent out an announcement by e-mail saying that the organization's merger with Young People in Recovery (YPR), which had been announced in September, would provide renewed energy for the recovery movement. Mike DeAgro, former chairman of the YPR board and co-chair of the merged organization, said in that communication, “By joining forces, Faces & Voices of Recovery and YPR can unite separate organizations into a single, stronger, national voice that can advocate for the needs of millions of people, of all ages, who need support while seeking or in continued recovery.”

On a day-to-day basis, each group will retain its distinct identity and separate branding, according to Buckman’s e-mail. Still remaining unique to Faces & Voices will be the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO), the Executive Directors Leadership Academy, recovery community messaging, and the online platform for the film “The Anonymous People.” The merger will improve the ability to reach a wider audience, according to the e-mail.

Riley’s voice

Justin Luke Riley, the 26-year-old president and CEO of YPR, served on the board of Faces & Voices for five years (he resigned when the merger talks began). He stresses that there is no “hostile takeover,” and that the opposite is true: “We have willingly proposed that our staff, our team, our financial assets, our board, that everything legally and technically speaking comes underneath Faces & Voices,” Riley says. “We don’t want to shut them down and take over. Young people in recovery exist because of Faces & Voices.”

But he adds that the next step of the merger needs to take place, with an executive director or directors needing to be named. Reached at his home base in Denver, Riley says he is uncomfortable discussing the issues of the merger, but acknowledges that “there are more and more people asking, ‘What’s going on?’”

Loss of Taylor

“Pat left quite a void,” says Buckman. “She was a giant in our community and largely responsible for moving Faces & Voices out there to become a household name.” When director of programs Tom Hill left the organization as well, returning to the Altarum Institute after three years as a powerhouse at Faces and Voices, “We were left with a huge gap, not only in experience and institutional knowledge,” Buckman says. “They’re both very solid people with glowing reputations, and I don’t think you can replace either one of them—you just find people with comparable skill sets and hope they can step in.”

Taylor, who had gone to Faces & Voices from the activist Center for Science in the Public Interest, sat in at important meetings at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and elsewhere in the halls of power in Washington. The Faces & Voices board never publicly communicated why Taylor left, a failing according to former board member John de Miranda, who shared his observations with Addiction Professional as an outsider. Uppermost is his concern that the organization will founder without Taylor.

“Under Pat’s leadership, Faces & Voices was becoming a major force in the addiction field for the voice of recovery,” says de Miranda. “There was a lot going on, and she made sure that we were at the right tables.”

He adds, “If you looked at SAMHSA, it was clear that Faces & Voices had gone from being just a vision to a major network of people really trying to change the conversation. “Since Pat left, it seems to me that all of that has stopped.”

de Miranda, formerly co-chair of Faces & Voices' public policy committee, says Taylor did a lot of work “behind the scenes that wouldn’t necessarily end up in a press release.” Now, he is afraid that Faces & Voices “is devolving into a trade organization for the recovery community organizations.”

de Miranda still sits on the public policy committee as an ex-officio member, and says that of the four public policy conference calls that have been held since Taylor left, none dealt with substantial issues.

Taylor, who declined to be interviewed for this article, resigned on Feb. 28 of this year. Steve Gumbley, formerly Faces & Voices' board chair and director of the Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) housed at Brown University, worked together with Hill to manage the organization's administrative functions and then did that on his own as volunteer CEO after Hill left. Gumbley retired in August, and Faces & Voices remains without an executive director.

SAMHSA’s role

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Correction to article: It is YPR, not Faces & Voices, that is organizing the Dec 3rd Day of Action for CARA.

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