No man left behind: A Committee member opens doors for others to follow

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Mitchell contributes back to the community in countless ways – one of which is being a member of the Vaya Health Human Rights Committee.

Mitchell never planned on being homeless.

He had a wife, a home and a job, but that’s exactly where he found himself. It’s not what anyone hopes for their life, but, for Mitchell, it may just be what gave him the motivation to finally take care of his own mental health and move towards recovery.

And as a person who has lived experience with substance use and mental health issues, he’s contributed back to the community in countless ways – one of which is being a member of the Vaya Health Human Rights Committee (HRC). The HRC reviews and monitors grievances and incidents to make sure members’ human rights, civil rights and client rights are protected.

“Through years of hard work and incremental steps, he is now out there helping his community, and his dedication to attending the board meetings is outstanding,” said Stacy Sorrells, Vaya Health director of member engagement and outreach. “He’s a faithful attendee, an active participant and is very interested in what we’re talking about.”

By being on the committee, Mitchell adds diversity and his own personal experience of living in recovery to the mix. He feels that it helps bring about change.

“That’s the whole idea of diversity and inclusion – it’s making sure you open a door that someone else can walk through other than yourself,” said Mitchell. “The veteran, the African American male, the homeless person – I’ve felt like the phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Rising from the ashes

Mitchell was working as an intern for a recovery services facility in Charlotte when one of the women in the group asked him a question that startled him. She asked if he had ever truly been homeless. It made him realize that he had always had a place to land and was lucky to never experience it.

Mitchell went on to receive a scholarship to obtain his certification as a peer support specialist. It seemed like things were good on the outside, and he was helping others with their own mental health issues. But after a series of relationship challenges and reintegrating into society after incarceration, he came to the decision that he needed to make a lifestyle change and become serious about his own mental health.

“They were all co-dependent situations,” said Mitchell. “I felt like I needed to see if I could really do this. I guess fear motivated me, and I’ve always said my life has been somewhere between the two polar opposites of fear and pain. Neither one served me well until it got to a crisis or critical point.”

He had family in Asheville and felt it was where he was meant to be. He found a recovery center and tried to make it work by himself. They ended up transferring him to Durham. That’s when his federal probation officer stepped in and set him up with the Veteran’s Restoration Quarters back in Asheville. It was just what Mitchell needed.

Being a peer support in an environment with veterans opened his eyes to the fact that they were fighting the same battles, and there was a comradery that supported him in his own journey. Mitchell stayed for two years and was recently discharged successfully, making it through transitional living. He was even able to get back some of his veterans’ benefits in the process.  

“I immediately grasped an attitude of gratitude and decided I wanted to give back,” said Mitchell.

A Journey sprinkled with miracles                                                                                            

Throughout his life, Mitchell had mentors who saw something in him that he didn’t see in himself, and they all told him the same thing: find ways to be of service and go where no one else will to do the really good work of recovery. Mitchell sums it up in the words of Earl Nightengale: “Our rewards will always be in exact proportion to our service.” It’s something he takes seriously.

Mitchell feels like his life has been sprinkled with miracles: mentors who helped guide his journey, experiences he never thought he would have and people he’s interacted with along the way. Now he’s paying it forward by making a life doing the same for others and getting the training he needs to do it. He’s a graduate of the Leadership Fellows Academy at N.C. State University and U.N.C. Chapel Hill. He’s an active member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and completed the veteran’s peer mentoring program at the Charles George V.A. Medical Center. He also acts as a voluntary consultant for those in the nonprofit business, and he volunteered with the Men’s Day Ministry at the First Baptist Church of Asheville to drive the bus and take men to doctor’s appointments.

“I did everything for the guys that someone had once done for me,” said Mitchell.

But the one that stands out the most for Mitchell is when he mentored a young man in the county’s Success Overcoming Addiction Through Recovery (SOAR) program. The man’s daughter had been placed in a foster home and he only had supervised family visits with her. Mitchell spent a year working to help them re-bond and the man now has full custody.

“It’s become second nature for me to do what I do,” said Mitchell.

The list of achievements and his volunteer involvement could go on, but Mitchell is not done yet. He has so much to be grateful for and wants others to experience the beauty that he sees living in recovery every day. His own experience feeling welcomed within other communities and walking through doors that had been opened for him makes him want to do the same for others. Part of that is making sure quality of care is provided for Vaya Health members by being on the Human Rights Committee.

“It breaks down a lot of stigma, it breaks down a lot of walls and it breaks down a lot of barriers,” said Mitchell. “It goes back to why I joined  ̶  diversity and inclusion.”

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