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Nationally prominent recovery advocate Gillen dies at 61

July 19, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Jim Gillen, who earned national acclaim for advocacy efforts that included building a vibrant recovery community at a Rhode Island neighborhood center launched by a community behavioral health agency, died July 18 after a long battle with cancer.

Gillen, 61, led the growth of the Anchor Recovery Community Centers from their first location in Pawtucket (as Rhode Island's first recovery community center) to additional programs housed at a YMCA and within a women's unit in the state corrections system. National accolades that he received in recent years included the Vernon Johnson Award from Faces & Voices of Recovery and the Individual Achievement in Advocacy honor from the National Council for Behavioral Health.

“Without a doubt, Jim Gillen was the face, the voice, and the conscience of the recovery community in Rhode Island,” Dale Klatzker, president of The Providence Center, said in a statement. The Providence Center opened the first Anchor Recovery Community Center in 2010 through a combination of a federal grant for recovery-oriented systems of care and a private donation.

In a 2011 interview with Addiction Professional, Gillen explained the organic nature of the recovery community center's growth as a location for 12-Step support meetings, life skills guidance, and simply the important building of friendships among persons in recovery. “We connect people,” he said at the time. “It's not a 'You better get a sponsor' kind of approach. We welcome all paths [to recovery].”

Recent innovations

Gillen was instrumental in establishing a network of recovery coaches in Rhode Island, with the Anchor center serving as a training hub. He also helped to develop a program in which recovery coaches link with overdose survivors at emergency rooms before they leave the hospital, in an attempt to build a rapport at what could serve as an important turning point for the addicted individual.

He also had been promoting wider use of the overdose reversal medication Narcan. “He helped shine a spotlight on the tragic loss of life due to addiction, calling on all to give the fight against addiction the same urgency devoted to other public health threats, many of which claim fewer lives,” Klatzker said in the statement.

Klatzker added in regard to the accomplishments of Gillen, who had served on The Providence Center staff since 2008, “Things like this don't 'just happen.' It takes passion, commitment, leadership, and the ability to help people see possibility, promise, and hope where others do not. Jim had this unique ability, and then some.”

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