Three drop-in peer centers opened Wednesday, Oct. 6, cutting ribbons on a new resource to help people suffering addictions.

The Oregon Washington Health Network centers in Hermiston, Pendleton and Milton-Freewater offer support and guidance from peers. These peers will be able to share their stories and direct people to assistance, whether that help is for addiction recovery or not. Some people may want assistance in making their addictions less problematic, and other people will want aid for dealing with family members who are addicts.

“We want everyone who comes here to feel loved,” said Kathleen Pollard, one of the Hermiston center’s peer mentors.

Other people at the grand opening shared her sentiment, celebrating the opening with cake and laughter.

Amy Ashton-Williams, the network’s executive director, was present at the Hermiston grand opening, which also included Hermiston city officials, OWhN employees and interested health care workers.

“I think this is monumental,” Ashton-Williams said, also explaining the centers will be able to offer help, untied to treatment. Services are free, and a good place for people who are troubled and unaware of what to do next.

OWhN has a medical clinic in Pendleton and has offered limited peer mentorship there. Ashton-Williams said the organization have helped around 50 people in the past few months. The offices, with more peers, she said, will be able to serve even more people.

Hermiston City Councilors Jackie Myers and Doug Primmer joined Ashton-Williams for the ribbon cutting.

“We are very excited for this,” Myers said. “This absolutely fills a need that Hermiston has far gone without. Having someone here for those in need and their families is a great service.”

Primmer added, based on his experience in law enforcement, he has seen the damage drugs have had on people’s lives.

“Having access to this type of thing, this network, is going to help us out,” he said, because the centers provide police a resource to direct people to.

Stanfield resident Luis Ibarra is the peer mentor supervisor for all three centers and oversees local operations. He trains peers and makes sure clients have a positive experience.

As the child of an alcoholic, he said he has a strong feeling for his work. He witnessed domestic violence in his home and abuse. This made him angry and bitter, leading to rebellion and dropping out of high school.

Even when his home life improved, he said he still had anger issues in need of rehabilitation. Now, he intends to help other people with similar problems.

Megan Torres, another peer supervisor, also is working with the centers, going from one to the other, as well as local hospitals. She will direct people with substance use disorder to the peer centers.

She said she is happy with the new centers and grateful for the opportunity to work with OWhN, as she is trying to reduce emergency department visits by redirecting people to the peer centers, where they are more properly served.

Shannon Carslay, recovery mentor, works out of the Pendleton center. In the past month, working in Pendleton, he has been able to help people by relating to addicted individuals. By sharing his own story, he gets them to open up about their situations. Then, he finds help for them.

“I’ve been through a lot of what our clients have been through,” he said. And he offers emotional support, while also directing clients to medical, psychological and even financial aid.

Valentin Palomares, recovery mentor, is working out of the Milton-Freewater center. He has spent the past month in training, studying to become certified and then shadowing other mentors.

“I’m really excited about this,” Palomares said. “I, myself, have not only dealt with drug and alcohol, but with other issues.”

He said he thinks people like him have been neglected, “not by the city, but by the culture.” He said Hispanic people find it difficult to ask for help and he hopes, as a Hispanic man, he can bring services to others without compromising their place in their culture.

Another peer mentor, Mariah Wright, also shares her experiences to help other struggling addicts. She said she is a recovering addict and has been “in and out of addiction for 10 years.” She was homeless for five years. For three of those years, she was homeless with her daughter.

“It was really hard,” she said. “For the longest time, I couldn’t put anything before the drugs. I always put the drugs first. So I understand the trouble; I understand how hard the drugs can be.”

Wright went to prison, and that is where she changed her life. Released from prison, she is now dedicated to helping others in Umatilla County.

“This is a passion for me,” she said. “I want people to get the experience with recovery that I have.”

She is the niece of East Oregonian news editor Phil Wright.

Kori Hibbard, a home visiting nurse with the Umatilla County Nurse-Family Partnership program, also attended the event.

“I feel this is going to be a great resource for the clients I serve,” she said. “I serve first-time moms and their babies, and I’m with them until their baby turns two. Some of my moms struggle with addiction and have a history of addiction.”

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