Finding hope in recovery – “Hands Around the Park for Recovery”

From the Argus Observer, September 17, 2011

Claudia Wilcox, Vale, (left) and Rita Lockner, Ontario, look at the 2011 ‘Handss Around the Park’ token. They are collected yearly and represent how many years people have been in recovery.

Eight years ago, Claudia Wilcox Vale started a tradition that would help change the negative attitudes and bias, surrounding the journey addicts take through recovery. Wilcox, and co-founder Andrea Lockner, began “Hands Around the Park for Recovery.”

“Hands Around the Park” is an annual event in September when people come together, to educate the communities about rehabilitation and addiction treatment. It is a family event, celebrating life, positive changes, and freedom from addiction.

Lockner worked for Lifeways for seven years, and her mother, Rita Lockner, Ontario, continues to be a huge supporter of “Hands Around the Park for Recovery.”

How did Wilcox get started?

Wilcox has been recovered for 14 years and 14 days. Her story began with a trip to jail, Sept. 16, 1997. Wilcox had been sober almost two weeks, when she was caught and put into jail.

“I was put in jail for six weeks, and was looking at 18 years in prison, if I didn’t change. So I changed,” Wilcox said.

After weighing her options, Wilcox became proactive.

“I didn’t want to go to prison at all,” she said of her experience. “I did residential and outpatient treatment. I had long-term probation. I went to work, took classes, and became a counselor at Lifeways.”

As someone who has fought addiction, Wilcox knows there is a negative connotation surrounding those who have been in treatment. Wilcox wants to change that mind set through education, and events like “Hands Around the Park.” She opened the Methadone Clinic in 2004. It was a treatment facility for opiate addiction, specializing in harm reduction treatment.

Helping others was a passion for Wilcox. And she had determination.

“The important thing is to keep helping people share,” Wilcox said. “Live a life of physical health, mental health, and emotional health.”

In 2009, Wilcox was chosen to be a delegate for Faces and Voices in Recovery, for the State of Oregon. Representatives from every state, traveled to New York City to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge together. There were 10,000 participants in all. Their goal was to show America that addiction is a treatable disease.

Looking back on her experiences in treatment and rehabilitation, Wilcox said she has empathy and compassion for others, because she knows what they are going through.

“I wanted someone who’d been there,” she said. “Most recovering addicts or people who are going to treatment, that’s what they want.”

Education is Wilcox priority today. She is going to school full-time for her bachelor’s degree in education. She will follow up with a master’s program most likely in social work.

There are many children in abusive homes, or neglectful homes. Because of that, Wilcox feels the children especially need someone to intervene. She wants to help get them into a setting that is supportive, and break the cycle.

Oregon has employed Wilcox to work in the office of Addiction and Mental Health. She sponsors women, and uses it as a way to pay it forward.

“I continue to give back to the community that gave back to me.” Wilcox said.